Saturday, April 12, 2014

Minor leaguer Spurrier won Medal of Honor

A brief item in the July 17, 1946 Sporting News mentioned that a hero of World War II and recipient of the Medal of Honor was realizing a lifelong dream when he was signed to a professional contract to pitch for the Galax (Va.) Leafs in the Class D Blue Ridge League.

James "Junior" Spurrier's page on credits him with appearing in just two games, winning one and losing the other. In six innings pitched he gave up seven hits, five runs and five walks. 

James Spurrier's minor league baseball career was as undistinguished as his military career was distinguished.

Sometimes cited as a "one-man Army" and the "Sgt. York of World War II," there are many internet articles detailing Spurrier's wartime experiences; you can follow up as your interests dictate.

In 2008, the Virginia legislature passed a resolution honoring Spurrier. The following text is from the Virginia House Joint Resolution:

Celebrating the life of Junior James Spurrier.
Agreed to by the House of Delegates, February 22, 2008
Agreed to by the Senate, February 28, 2008
WHEREAS, Junior James Spurrier, born James Ira Spurrier, Jr., in Wise County in 1922, was one of the war heroes of the so called "Greatest Generation," an exceptional soldier who singlehandedly engineered feats of extraordinary bravery during his military service; and

WHEREAS, Junior Spurrier lived in Bluefield, West Virginia, and worked at a Civilian Conservation Corps camp there until he joined the United States Army in September of 1940, and he was deployed to both the Pacific Theater and Europe; and 
WHEREAS, a private when he enlisted, Junior Spurrier quickly rose to the rank of staff sergeant, and in the fall of 1944, he was a platoon commander for Company G, 134th Infantry, 35th Infantry Division, 9th Army stationed near Lay St. Christophe, France; and 
WHEREAS, charged with taking a heavily guarded hill near Lay St. Christophe, Sergeant Spurrier mounted a tank destroyer, took its .50 caliber machine gun, and cleared the way for his platoon to advance, capturing over 20 German soldiers along the way; he received the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions that day; and 
WHEREAS, on November 14, 1944, Sergeant Spurrier led his platoon in an attack to take over the German-held town of Achain, France; he had his platoon approach the town from one side while he entered by himself from another direction; and
WHEREAS, the Germans successfully defended the town from the advancing platoon, but Sergeant Spurrier used his Browning Automatic Rifle, his M1 rifle, American and German rocket launchers, a German pistol, and hand grenades to kill 25 German soldiers and capture several more; and
WHEREAS, Sergeant Spurrier was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his unprecedented feats that day, and he received many other honors and distinctions for his valiant service, including a Purple Heart with Oak Leaf Cluster, Croix de Guerre, American Theater Service Medal, American Defense Service Medal with Bronze Star, European, African, Middle Eastern Campaign Medals, Marksman Badge (M1 rifle), and Combat Infantry Badge; and
WHEREAS, Junior Spurrier died in 1984 in Tennessee, but the man dubbed a "one man army" by fellow veterans was honored in 2006 with a memorial in Bluefield, West Virginia; now, therefore, be it 
RESOLVED by the House of Delegates, the Senate concurring, That the General Assembly hereby celebrate the life of Junior James Spurrier, a true patriot and a man of unbounded courage; and, be it 
RESOLVED FURTHER, That the Clerk of the House of Delegates prepare a copy of this resolution for presentation to the family of Junior James Spurrier as an expression of the General Assembly’s respect and admiration for his heroism and his dedication to duty.

Another account found on the internet provided further details . . . 
Capture of Achain was credited to one man: S/Sgt. James J. Spurrier, Bluefield, W. Va., a former farmer and Co. G, 134th, squad leader. When 2nd Bn. Attacked Achain Nov. 14, the 22-year-old sergeant entered the town alone from the west while his company drove in from the east.

Spurrier shot the first three Nazis with his M-1. Then, picking up BARs, Yank and German bazookas and grenades wherever he found them, he systematically began to clean out the town. He crumbled one stronghold with bazooka shells, killed three more Nazis with a BAR, captured a garrison commander, a lieutenant and 14 men. Another defense point was silenced when he killed its two occupants. Out of ammunition and under fire from four Nazis, Spurrier hurled a Nazi grenade into the house, killing the four Germans.

That night, the one-man army had charge of an outpost. While checking security, he heard four Germans talking in a barn. He set fire to the supply of oil and hay, captured the four as they ran out. Later, he spotted a Kraut crawling toward a sentry, killed him when there was no reply to his challenge.

According to Lt. Col. Frederick Roecker, Spurrier's battalion CO, Spurrier killed 25 Germans and captured 20 others. In March, 1945, Sgt. Spurrier was awarded the division's first Congressional Medal of Honor.

Spurrier's official Medal of Honor citation reads:
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty in action against the enemy at Achain, France, on 13 November 1944. At 2 p.m., Company G attacked the village of Achain from the east. S/Sgt. Spurrier armed with a BAR passed around the village and advanced alone. Attacking from the west, he immediately killed 3 Germans. From this time until dark, S/Sgt. Spurrier, using at different times his BAR and Ml rifle, American and German rocket launchers, a German automatic pistol, and handgrenades, continued his solitary attack against the enemy regardless of all types of small-arms and automatic-weapons fire. As a result of his heroic actions he killed an officer and 24 enlisted men and captured 2 officers and 2 enlisted men. His valor has shed fresh honor on the U.S. Armed Forces.

Various internet pieces indicate Spurrier lived a tough life after his military and baseball days, problems with alcohol contributing to run-ins with the law that eventually landed him in prison.

There are a handful of photos of Spurrier on the internet, but I've found none of him in his baseball uniform. The 1971 Baltimore Sun photo above shows Spurrier in the radio-tv shop he operated.

There may have been other professional baseball players who won the Medal of Honor, but I'm not aware of them. 

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