Wednesday, October 1, 2014

WWII pilots sought pro ball caps

Baseball caps from pro teams were highly sought by pilots and
crew during World War II.  T/Sgt. Bob Caron, tail gunner on the
Enola  Gay, wore a Brooklyn Dodgers cap on the mission to
bomb Hiroshima
In my reading of microfilm of The Sporting News from 1944-45, I’ve noticed several items indicating that baseball caps from professional teams were highly prized by U.S. pilots.

Besides the prestige of wearing a cap formerly worn by a ballplayer, there was a practical side. Pilots found that the peaked visors of a baseball cap provided better protection from the sun’s glare than did the standard-issue headwear. Also, the professional ballcaps fit more snugly than Uncle Sam's version, giving the pilot and crew a better fit for their headsets.
Billy Southworth, Jr., (right) shown here with Bob Hope, wore a St. Louis
Cardinals baseball cap for much of his distinguished WWII flying career.
The trend was said to have started with Billy Southworth, Jr., son of the St. Louis Cardinals manager. The younger Southworth had played his way up to the top rungs of the Cards' minor league chain between 1936-40. He became a highly decorated bomber pilot in World War II, often wearing a Cardinals' cap in cockpit. He died in 1945 in a stateside plane crash.

Anybody who had a contact within a professional baseball organization from whom caps could be procured earned instant admiration from the flight crews.

Typical of the items carried by TSN of this subject was this short piece from the “In The Service” column of the April 27, 1944, issue.

White Sox Caps to Pay
Another Visit to Japan
            Chicago, Ill.—Back in the winter of 1913-14, when Charley Comiskey and John McGraw took their respective White Sox and Giants on a trip around the world, White Sox caps were worn by Tris Speaker, Sam Crawford, Herman Schaeffer and Urban Faber when they played in Tokyo, Yokohama and other Japanese cities. Some American airmen, wearing White Sox caps, now hope to pay another visit to Nippon’s big cities in the not-too-distant future.
            At the request of the former White Sox pitching star, Captain Ted Lyons of the Marines, Jimmie Dykes, Chicago manager, sent two dozen Sox caps to Ted in a fighting sector in the Southwest Pacific. They are to be used by fighting pilots from the base. For good measure, Dykes included Ted’s old White Sox shirt, with the familiar “16”on the back, the number which endeared Lyons to Chicago fans for 20 seasons with the Hose.

I don’t have it at hand, but I recall a 1945 TSN article about a “lucky” Brooklyn Dodgers cap worn by a B-17 pilot in Europe.

Wearing the Brooklyn cap, the pilot had brought his ship and crew through an unusually high number of bombing missions. He was hospitalized with some internal ailment or other and was visited by his crew prior to their next mission. He forgot to give the cap to the pinch-hitting pilot. The plane and its crew of 10 were lost.

Another noteworthy case of WWII pilots requesting pro ball caps was related by St. Louis Cardinals manager Billy Southworth in 1943. 

He received a request for St. Louis Cardinals caps from the commander of a Marine fighter squadron in the Pacific. The commander said that if Southworth would provide the caps, he and his pilots would shoot down one Japanese fighter for each cap received. 

Southworth sent the caps and later learned that the unit had splashed 48 Zeros by early 1944. The flying leathernecks' unit was Maj. Pappy Boyington's "Black Sheep Squadron."

The impetus for bringing this posting to fruition was an episode of Pawn Stars that I watched last night. Somebody was trying to get an inordinate amount of cash for a couple of autographed photos related to the Enola Gay and its crew.

I noticed that the one of the B-29 crew (it wasn’t pilot Col. Paul Tibbets) was wearing a Brooklyn Dodgers cap on that Aug. 6, 1945, mission that delivered the first atomic bomb over Hiroshima.

The airman wearing the Dodgers cap was T/Sgt. Bob Caron, the plane’s tail gunner. It was appropriate he had the cap since he was a 1938 graduate of Brooklyn Technical High School.

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