Hall of Fame Military Spotlight Series: Willard Brown
Willard Brown was an outstanding baseball player and Soldier. He was a monumental player in the Negro Leagues, known as “Home Run” Brown to other players. He embodied valor and strength throughout his service and in his playing career.
Most of Brown’s playing career was spent in the Negro Leagues, with the Kansas City Monarchs. He won six Negro American League Championships from 1937-1946 and the Negro World Series in 1942 with the Monarchs.
In 1944, Brown began his service in the United States Army in the European Theatre. Brown was on one of the 5000 ships that crossed the English Channel during the invasion of Normandy. A member of the Quartermaster Corps, he was not in combat but was engaged in hauling ammunition and guarding prisoners. He was transferred to Special Services in France, where he was recruited by Phillies pitcher Sam Nahem to play for the OISE All-Stars, who represented the communications zone in the 1945 ETO World Series.
The OISE All-Stars were underdogs, but they did have the talent of Brown, Nahem, and Leon Day. They faced Ewell Blackwell and the Red Circlers in the first game of the World Series. They lost the first game at Soldier Field in Nurnberg, Germany, but went on to win the next two games, with the third game being played on the All-Stars’ home turf in Rheims, France. The Red Circles tied the series with the fourth game, but the OISE All-Stars came away with the World Series win in the fifth game, thanks to key performances from Brown and Day.
Brown returned to the Kansas City Monarchs in 1946 and eventually joined the Major Leagues in 1947, after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier. Brown played for the St. Louis Browns for just one season but was the first African American to hit a home run in the American League.
Brown was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Special Committee in 2006. He played an integral role in overcoming the adversity that African Americans faced in baseball. He is recognized by the Foundation for his consistent demonstration of valor and commitment that he displayed on the baseball diamond and throughout his military service.