Heard from a reader the other day who knew Yogi Berra, a D-Day veteran, during their days together in the U.S. Navy.
Sam Wasson, 90, of Atlantis took the time to write me a long letter about Yogi, who died Sept. 22. It seemed to me that there was enough inspirational and entertaining content in there to make an excerpt of Sam’s letter something of a Veterans Day tribute to all those who risked or lost their lives in defending America, and to all who worked every day to make the best of a horrible situation.
Take it away, Sam.
“I was stationed in New London, Ct., and got to know Yogi Berra well. I served 10 years on five submarines from 1943-53 as a cook. I had busted an eardrum and had other head injuries in a training accident and was placed on light duty until I healed.
“In the summer of 1944, Yogi arrived at the base on the Seagoing Tugboat 151. They were returning from the Normandy invasion. Yogi had been on an open-mount 50 caliber machine gun for the whole day, with German fighters strafing the operation.
“I remember he said it was just like the Fourth of July in St. Louis, his hometown.
“During the years of planning the invasion the Navy had ordered several of those tugs that could tow the landing craft off the beaches after the troops had gone ashore so another could get in.
“Yogi had played Class D ball the previous season on the Yankees’ farm team in Norfolk, Va. When he arrived at the sub base, there were several major league players on the base team there managed by Jimmy Gleeson, Cubs and Reds outfielder.
“Being on light duty with nothing else to do, I became a full-time baseball groupie. I traveled with the team and sat in the dugout. My duties were to collect $2 from each player and take it up in the stands and get it ‘covered.’ Yes, they did bet on themselves. Most of them were just like the rest of us. They were working for between $50 and $100 per month. I would take the winnings and buy three cases of cold beer and have it ready in the dressing room for after the game. Gleeson demanded that.
“Gleeson rode Yogi hard. I was very pleased when Yogi was made manager of the Yankees several years later, the first coach that he hired was Jimmy Gleeson. They were cut from the same cloth. Smart baseball men.
“There were about 15 million men and women in the service during WWII. I read recently that by Veterans Day 2015, which is the 70th anniversary of th end of WWII, there will only be about a half million left alive. I hope that every American will take a few minutes to remember the 14,500,000 that won’t be with us anymore, including my two brothers.
There are so many of you out there with so many stories of courage and strength but most of them are never told. On this Veterans Day, please know that you are appreciated and that your sacrifice was priceless.
And now a final word from Sam, an Atlantis resident for 38 years, just to leave you laughing.
I asked him what it’s like to work and live on a submarine and he said “After all the physical training we did, you had to go before three psychiatrists to determine who was fit for 90 days of duty in a submarine. We used to say that if all three of them agreed that you were absolutely nuts, you passed.”