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Hall of Fame Military Spotlight Series: Hank Greenberg

Henry “Hank” Greenberg had a talented baseball career, but also served our country proudly in the U.S. Army Air Corps during WWII. The Bob Feller Act of Valor Award Foundation recognizes him for his service, which he prioritized over baseball and demonstrated strength and commitment. In October of 1940, he became the first American League player to register for the nation’s first peacetime draft.

Greenberg was born in New York City on January 1, 1911. He attended James Monroe High School in the Bronx, where he stared in baseball, basketball, and soccer. He attended New York University before signing with the Detroit Tigers in 1930. Although he did play one game that year in the Major Leagues at the age of 19, he went on to play three seasons in the minor leagues before reaching the Major Leagues in 1933 where he hit .301 with 87 RBI. In 1935, he was the American League’s Most Valuable Player when the Tigers won the World Championship.

His playing days took a hiatus when he entered the U.S. Army on May 7, 1941. He trained at Fort Custer in Battle Creek, MI and was welcomed by many troops of the Fifth Division upon his arrival. He became an anti-tank gunner and moved on to maneuvers in Tennessee. By November 1941, he had risen to the rank of Sergeant.

Greenberg was honorably discharged on December 1941, due to the law by Congress that released men over the age of 28 from service, but re-enlisted at Fort Dix, NJ in February 1942. He volunteered for service in the U.S. Army Air Corps. His reason for re-enlisting, he told The Sporting News, was “we are in trouble, and there is only one thing for me to do – return to the service.”

Greenberg played in a war bonds game that raised over $800 million in war bond pledges. He played with Sid Hudson in a game that featured War Bond All-Stars and Army All-Stars. After that, he graduated from Officer Candidate School and was commissioned as a first lieutenant and was assigned to the Army Air Force Physical Education Program.

In 1944, the now Captain Greenberg, requested an overseas assignment and was assigned to the first of the Boeing B-29 Superfortresses to go overseas, spending 6 months in India, then in China in an administrative role. During the middle of 1944, he was recalled to New York from Japan and became responsible for taking small groups of returning combat officers to war plants in New England and boosting their morale.

In 1945, he was placed on the military inactive list and returned to the Tigers. He played for two years, but in 1947 was debating retiring instead of playing for the low wages that the Tigers were offering him. Instead, he was traded to the Pirates and was the first major league player to earn over $100,000 in a season. Greenberg ended his career as a two-time Most Valuable Player and was one of the all-time great power hitters of his generation. He had a total of 331 home runs despite his 47 months of military service at the height of his baseball career. He was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1956.



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