Today, I make my Deadspin debut, with a meaty little story I've been wanting to write for the last few months. This is some of the best reporting I've ever done—the untold stories of Jack Lummus and Joe Pinder, the only two professional baseball players to receive the Medal of Honor during World War II.
The walls were plywood. The ramp was steel. On June 6, 1944, Joe Pinder fought seasickness in a cramped troop carrier, waiting to take his place on Omaha Beach. On March 8, 1945, Jack Lummus grew impatient in an Iwo Jima foxhole, after 36 hours pinned down by sniper fire. Both men had once made a living playing minor league baseball. Both would be dead by night.
Over 4,000 minor leaguers served the American military during World War II. While some major league stars spent the war barnstorming from base to base on service teams, minor league players were regular soldiers, no different from any other men who left behind careers to fight. Of those 4,000, only two were granted the Congressional Medal of Honor. As ballplayers, Jack Lummus and Joe Pinder were ordinary. As soldiers, they were special.
By the time Pinder made landfall at Omaha, less than an hour after the start of the Normandy invasion, the precisely planned assault had slid into chaos. The naval bombardment had failed to destroy the German guns, and the amphibious tanks designed to provide cover for the first wave of infantry had sunk just offshore. The beach was slick with American blood, and every new man who approached it faced a murderous combination of artillery, machine guns, and mines.
"Thousands of bodies were lying there," said Pfc. Buster Hamlett, as quoted in Russell Miller'soral history of the invasion. "You could walk on the bodies, as far as you could see along the beach, without touching the ground. Parts of bodies—heads, legs and arms—floated in the sea."
It doesn't get any more fun from there.