From SABR member Graham Womack at The Sporting News on May 30, 2016:
Following the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, Major League Baseball went to war.
The vast majority of active major leaguers drafted by the military served on USO All-Star teams, playing in front of servicemen in games designed to boost morale. But some players had more dangerous duty.
Hank Greenberg, who’d just completed a year of peacetime military service that cost him most of the 1941 season, promptly re-enlisted and flew on reconnaissance missions over Burma. Bob Feller was one of the first to join up as well, serving on a battleship in the South Pacific and running laps on board in between Japanese bombing raids.
Ted Williams waited until after his Triple Crown season in 1942 to enlist, though he went on to spend three years training pilots in Hawaii. Williams served in the Korean War as well, flying 38 combat missions and even surviving getting shot down. Williams might have had 700 home runs without his military service, but his sacrifice is part of his mystique.
In a sense, Greenberg, Feller and Williams were all lucky. They all returned to the majors after World War II ended and resumed Hall of Fame careers. Feller’s four-year break arguably even saved his arm, allowing him to pitch through 1956.
A few players didn’t get as lucky. No active MLB stars died in World War II, but a few who might have been destined for the Hall of Fame, such as Dom DiMaggio and Johnny Pesky, lost time in the majors that couldn’t be replaced. Perhaps no Cooperstown candidate lost more than Washington Senators shortstop Cecil Travis.
Originally published: May 31, 2016. Last Updated: May 31, 2016.