As we recognize the 79th anniversary of the largest amphibious invasion in military history known as D-Day this June 6th, the Bob Feller Act of Valor Award Foundation is also taking this opportunity to honor one of our heroes, Lawrence “Yogi” Berra, the first recipient of our award for a Hall of Fame awardee who displays Bob Feller’s courage, selfless service, and the strict standards by which he lived his life. Like Feller, Yogi, at the young age of 18, put his career on hold to serve his country in WWII, as a U.S. Navy Seaman Second Class onboard a rocket boat in support of the first offensive waves of the Allied invasion. These 36-foot rocket boats, classified as Landing Craft Small Support (LCSS) boats were armed with six crew members, a dozen rockets, and several machine guns each. Their mission was to get 300 yards off Normandy’s shore and suppress the German machine gun nests with rockets so the troops landing could have a better chance of survival. For months before the invasion, Yogi’s LCSS trained with eleven others under the attack transport USS Bayfield, to prepare for the invasion.
D-Day, the code designated for the day of an important invasion or military operation was the name given on June 6, 1944. It would take place at Normandy, located in northern France by troops from the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and other countries during WWII. France was occupied by the armies of Nazi Germany and the amphibious assault, known as “Operation Overload,” landed some 156,000 Allied troops on the beaches of Normandy by the end of day one. Despite their success, some 4,000 Allied military personnel were killed by German soldiers defending the beaches. Within a few days an estimated 326,000 troops, more than 50,000 vehicles, and some 100,000 tons of equipment had landed. By August 1945, all of northern France had been liberated, and by the spring of 1945, the Allies had defeated the Germans. Historians have often considered D-Day as the beginning of the end of WWII. Navy crewmen like Yogi Berra were instrumental in paving the way for France’s liberation. Normandy was not the end of Yogi’s military career. In fact, his LCDS also supported the invasion of southern France later that year. After the war, Yogi continued to support the troops in other ways as a civilian.
He was discharged in 1945 and returned to baseball joining the Newark Bears, the Yankees top affiliate. He was quickly picked up by the Major League club in the final weeks of the 1946 season. Yogi was an extremely talented catcher, accumulating many accolades during his career. He was an 18 time All-Star, a three-time MVP, and appeared in 21 World Series games as a player, manager, and coach from 1946 to 1985. He has a total of 10 World Series rings as a player and played in 75 World Series games, both of which are all-time records. After his playing career, he served as a coach and manager. He was a coach for the Yankees in 1963 and managed them in 1964 before spending time coaching and managing the Mets. He returned as the Yankee manager in 1984. He was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972.
For his military efforts, he was awarded a distinguished unit citation, two battle stars, and the European Theater of Operations ribbon. Yogi was also wounded in the hand by German fire and was nominated for the Purple Heart. However, he never received the medal because he declined to fill out the paperwork because he didn’t want his mom to get a telegram and worry that he had been hurt.
In 2009, he received the Lone Sailor Award from the U.S. Navy and was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015, after more than 100,000 people signed a petition that was submitted to the White House for President Obama’s approval. The petition cited Berra’s military service and civil rights and educational activism as the reason for the award, not his baseball exploits. Some fondly remember his “Yogi-isms,” including some of his wittiest quips like, “It ain’t over til it’s over” and baseball is 90 percent mental, the other half is physical.” In one way or another, Yogi is synonymous with baseball.
Yogi is admired for his sacrifice and determination demonstrated during his service in the Navy. Unlike most of the Major League Baseball stars who were assigned to play baseball to boost morale, Yogi served and fought, putting his life on the line. We proudly recognize him in this week’s Special Spotlight Series as we also remember the service and sacrifice by all during the Normandy Invasion.
The Foundation would also like to recognize National Baseball Hall of Fame members Leon Day and Mickey Cochrane. Day was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1943 and served with the 818th Amphibious Battalion during WWII. More specifically he took part in delivering supplies to Utah Beach on June 12, 1944. Mickey Cochrane, who also served in the U.S. Navy during WWII, tragically lost his son, Gordon, Jr. at Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944.