At the Veterans Breakfast Club,

Stories Unite Us.

Check out our online & in-person veterans storytelling programs and see our full event schedule below. All are welcome to join us!

Major League Baseball Veterans of World War II

Date: June 6, 2024
Time: 7:00 pm - 8:30 pm
Location: Zoom, Facebook, YouTube
Events | Online Events

Fir the 80th anniversary we talk about D-Day veteran Yogi Berra and the 38 other Major League Baseball Hall of Famers who served in World War II.

That’s right: 39 members of the Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown served in the military during World War II.

It’s a sign of how the war effort took precedence over everything in American life between 1941-1945, including the national pastime. ,

One of the most notable players who joined the military was Ted Williams, a star outfielder for the Boston Red Sox. Williams enlisted in the Navy and became a fighter pilot. His absence from baseball lasted nearly three years, from 1943 to 1945. He served with distinction, earning several commendations.

Joe DiMaggio, the celebrated center fielder for the New York Yankees, also left MLB to serve in the Army Air Forces. DiMaggio’s enlistment came in 1943, and he spent three years in the military, where he primarily took on a role in physical education and morale-boosting duties, playing on military baseball teams.

Hank Greenberg, a powerful hitter for the Detroit Tigers, was another significant player who served during the war. Greenberg was among the first major leaguers to enlist, joining the Army Air Forces in 1941, just after the attack on Pearl Harbor. He was discharged in 1944 but was called back to service, ultimately spending nearly four years in the military.

Stan Musial, an outfielder and first baseman for the St. Louis Cardinals, enlisted in the Navy in early 1945. Although he joined later in the war, Musial still missed the entire season.

The departure of these stars, along with many others, led to a noticeable decline in the overall quality of play in MLB. Teams had to fill their rosters with older players, young prospects, and those classified as 4-F, meaning they were deemed unfit for military service due to physical, mental, or moral reasons.

Despite these challenges, baseball continued throughout the war, providing a source of entertainment and morale for both the public and the troops. The league also made adjustments to accommodate the war effort, such as implementing “victory games” to raise money for the military and other war-related causes.

The war’s end in 1945 saw the gradual return of players from military service, rejuvenating the league. Their service and sacrifice added a layer of respect and admiration from fans, highlighting the deep connection between baseball and American society during this tumultuous period.

We’re grateful to UPMC for Life and Tobacco Free Adagio Health for sponsoring this event!

The Hunt for Enigma and the U-Boat Carrying It in World War II

Date: June 13, 2024
Time: 7:00 pm - 8:30 pm
Location: Zoom, Facebook, YouTube
Events | Online Events

We welcome writer and Executive Producer of Inside Edition Charles Lachman to talk about his new book, Codename Nemo: The Hunt for a Nazi U-Boat and The Elusive Enigma Machine.

The book is a white-knuckled saga of a maverick captain, nine courageous sailors, and a US Navy task force who achieved the impossible on June 4, 1944–capturing Nazi submarine U-505, its crew, technology, encryption codes, and an Enigma cipher machine. 

Two days before D-Day–the course of World War II was forever changed. The hunters of the Atlantic Ocean had become the hunted, and US antisubmarine Task Group 22.3 seized a Nazi U-boat, its crew, and all its secrets. Led by a nine-man boarding party and Captain Daniel Gallery, “Operation Nemo” was the first seizure of an enemy warship in battle since the War of 1812, a victory that shortened the duration of the war. But at any moment, the mission could have ended in disaster.

Charles Lachman tells this thrilling cat-and-mouse game through the eyes of the men on both sides of Operation Nemo–German U-boaters and American heroes like Lieutenant Albert David (“Mustang”), who led the boarding party that took control of U-505 and became the only sailor to be awarded the Medal of Honor in the Battle of the Atlantic.

Three thousand American sailors participated in this extraordinary adventure; nine ordinary American men channeling extraordinary skill and bravery finished the job; and then–like everyone involved–breathed not a word of it until the war was over.

In Berlin, the German Kriegsmarine assumed that U-505 had been blown to bits by depth charges, with all hands lost at sea. They were unaware that the U-boat, its Enigma machine, and its Nazi coded messages were now in American hands. They were also unaware that the 59 German sailors captured on the high seas were imprisoned in a POW camp in Ruston, Louisiana, until their release in 1946.

A deeply researched, fast-paced World War II narrative for the ages, Charles Lachman’s Codename Nemo traces every step of this historic pursuit on the deadly seas.

We’re grateful to UPMC for Life and Tobacco Free Adagio Health for sponsoring this event!

 

The Untold Story of American POWs at Buchenwald

Date: June 20, 2024
Time: 7:00 pm - 8:30 pm
Location: Zoom, Facebook, YouTube
Events | Online Events

During World War II, 168 American airmen found themselves in one of the most notorious concentration camps of the Holocaust: Buchenwald. This unexpected and harrowing chapter of their captivity began in 1944 and stands as a grim reminder of the broader atrocities of the war.

Author Ric Martini joins us to discuss his research into this disturbing subject, which he compiled in his book Betrayed: Secrecy, Lies, and Consequences. Ric’s father, Frederic C. Martini, was one of those imprisoned at Buchenwald.

These airmen were primarily bomber crew members shot down over German-occupied Europe. Typically, Allied airmen captured by German forces were considered prisoners of war (POWs) and were sent to military-run POW camps, as stipulated by the Geneva Convention. However, this group of airmen faced a different fate due to a series of tragic misunderstandings and bureaucratic failings.

After being shot down, the airmen initially evaded capture with the help of local resistance networks. Unfortunately, these efforts often ended in their eventual capture by German forces. Labeled as “terrorflieger” or “terror fliers” by the Nazi regime—propaganda that painted them as criminals rather than soldiers—their fate was dire. The Gestapo, rather than the military, took custody of these men. The Gestapo bypassed the established protocol for treating captured Allied airmen and instead classified them as spies or saboteurs, stripping them of the protections normally afforded to POWs.

In August 1944, these captured airmen were transported to Buchenwald, a concentration camp primarily used for political prisoners and other targets of the Nazi regime. Their arrival at Buchenwald was marked by shock and confusion; they were housed alongside political prisoners, resistance fighters, and other groups persecuted by the Nazis.

Conditions at Buchenwald were horrific. The airmen were subjected to the same brutal treatment as other inmates: overcrowding, inadequate food, harsh labor, and rampant disease. The camp’s SS guards showed no regard for their status as military personnel. Instead, the airmen faced beatings, deprivation, and the constant threat of execution.

The turning point for these airmen came through the persistence and bravery of a few individuals. Among the prisoners were individuals who, through covert communication and sheer determination, managed to get word to the Luftwaffe (German Air Force) officers about the presence of Allied airmen in the camp. The Luftwaffe, still adhering to some remnants of the military code of honor, was outraged to learn that legitimate POWs were being held in a concentration camp.

Under pressure from the Luftwaffe, and fearing repercussions from the advancing Allied forces, the SS transferred the airmen to Stalag Luft III, a more conventional POW camp. This transfer occurred in October 1944, nearly two months after their initial arrival at Buchenwald. Despite their rescue from the concentration camp, the physical and psychological scars of their experience at Buchenwald remained with them.

The story of the 168 American airmen held at Buchenwald highlights the complex interplay of military protocols, Nazi ideology, and the chaotic nature of wartime Europe. It underscores the brutality of the Nazi regime and the resilience of those who endured its horrors. These airmen’s survival, against such grim odds, stands as a testament to their courage and the enduring human spirit amidst one of history’s darkest periods.

But another disturbing element of this tragedy is that the 81 American veterans who returned home endured the indignity of the US government denying that they’d ever been there. The denial, based on “alternative facts,” had a profound effect on the lives of men who had first been betrayed to the Germans and then betrayed by the government they had suffered to defend. 

Ric’s father, like many other Buchenwald airmen, came home with serious medical problems and acute PTSD. These men were told by the VA that their problems were imaginary because they could not have been at Buchenwald. They were considered to be either lying or delusional. This bizarre injustice continued for almost 40 years, until some of the files related to the Buchenwald airmen were declassified.

Piecing together this story involved reviewing over 160,000 pages of declassified documents. Ric’s book project took seven years and required the assistance of archivists, curators, translators, and fellow researchers in the US, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, and New Zealand.

We’re grateful to UPMC for Life and Tobacco Free Adagio Health for sponsoring this event!

 

Astronaut Jan Davis

Date: June 27, 2024
Time: 7:00 pm - 8:30 pm
Location: Zoom, Facebook, YouTube
Events | Online Events

Astronaut Jan Davis talks about her life in aviation and the legacy of service in her family. Her memoir Air Born, tells the story of her and her father.

Her father was Ben Smotherman, a B-17 pilot in World War II, vwho aliantly fought in the European Theater of Operations before being shot down over Holland in July 1943. After enduring twenty-one months as a prisoner of war, he was finally reunited with his loved ones and was able to start a family. Years later, after perusing his Wartime Log, his daughter Jan made discoveries about her father’s experiences that shed light on her own life path. As a Space Shuttle astronaut, Jan Davis went through intensive training, flew NASA jets, and completed three spaceflights, spending over 673 hours on orbit. Her experiences and emotions during her launches and space travel echoed those of her father during his combat missions, highlighting the unshakable bond between father and daughter.

With Air Born, you can join in on a flight through history as Jan Davis relates her father’s heroic service and draws connections between his combat missions and her own spaceflights. Discover the ins and outs of pilot training in the 1940s alongside Ben Smotherman and bear witness to his harrowing capture, interrogation, and imprisonment at Stalag Luft III. Rejoice with the POWs as World War II finally ends and the prisoners are returned home to continue pursuing their life’s goals. Shadow Jan Davis as she expertly navigates a career characterized by space exploration, scientific experimentation, and phenomenal feats of engineering. And draw inspiration from the intersection of two completely different yet uniquely connected worlds brought together by a common link of family and flying.

We’re grateful to UPMC for Life and Tobacco Free Adagio Health for sponsoring this event!

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