1944: Baseball’s First Casualty of World War II

Because it is Memorial Day, I am reposting this blurb on Elmer Gedeon that I originally published in April 2008.

April 20, 1944

Elmer Gedeon was part of an athletic family from the beginning. His uncle Joe was a major league ballplayer who made a little history of his own by being the only player banned as a result of the Black Sox scandal that wasn’t actually a member of the team that threw the games.

Elmer followed in his uncle’s athletic footsteps, however, and became a multi-sport athlete at the University of Michigan. He lettered in three different sports, but his best was probably track and field, in which he was a two-time Big Ten Champion, helping his team to earn multiple National Championships. Elmer also played football and baseball in college.

Upon graduation in 1939, Gedeon signed with the Washington Nationals. After spending the first part of that season in the minors, he was called up in mid-September and appeared in five games for Washington. He spent the 1940 season playing in Charlotte, and though he received another September call to Washington he did not appear in any games. Gedeon was set to return to spring training in 1941, but was drafted to the military in January of that year instead.

Gedeon joined the Air Force and ended up flying missions as a captain in France. Gary Bedingfield chronicled the events of April 20 at Baseballlibrary.com:

On April 20, Gedeon piloted one of 30 B-26 Marauders that left Boreham to attack construction works at Bois de Esquerdes. It was the group’s thirteenth mission. Gedeon’s bomber was severely hit by flak over France, and co-pilot Lieutenant James Taaffe, who had been sitting alongside Gedeon when the airplane was hit, was the only crew member able to escape as the bomber plunged to the earth, carrying Gedeon and five others. He is buried at St Pol, France.

Gedeon was listed as MIA for more than a year. Finally, in May of 1945, his father received confirmation of Elmer’s death from a commanding officer who explained that his burial site had been located.

Gedeon was one of two major league players who were killed in action during World War II. The other was Harry O’Neill of the Philadelphia Athletics, who was killed at Iwo Jima in March 1945.

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