Sunday, January 26, 2003

These old soldiers won't fade away


WWII veterans bagged 1946 softball title

By John Erardi
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Third baseman Don Nagel celebrated his 80th birthday last week.

So first baseman Arvin Terry, 85, decided it was time to pen a remembrance.

Terry and Nagel are among the five surviving members of the 18-player, 1946 national championship fast-pitch softball team.

"Our World War II veterans are dying at the rate of 1,500 a day," Terry wrote. "I just thought you might like to hear the story of 'Raggedy Ass Nine' before it fades from history completely."

So I met Terry on a frigid Thursday morning at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center on Vine Street, where Arv had an appointment that day. I listened to the story of the Raggedy Ass Nine.

In 1946, fast-pitch softball - baseball's full-fledged first cousin because of the speed of the pitches and the deftness required on defense - rose quickly in popularity. World War II did for fast-pitch what the Civil War did for baseball: spread it like wildfire.

The soldiers played it in military camps, then exported it back home hundred-fold. In the cases of Arv Terry, a radio operator in Gen. George S. Patton's Seventh Armored Division in the march to Germany; Don Nagel, relay man for the catapult aboard the aircraft-escort carrier USS Solomons in the South Atlantic; and Maurice "Mo" Williams, supply sergeant in the medical corps of the Third Army, opportunities for sport were limited. But they all played..

Coming home to post-war family life and fast-pitch softball was hugely therapeutic. During the war, Williams had been a hands-on witness to horrific daily carnage.

His unit replaced the captured 101st Airborne in the Battle of the Bulge, which saw 3,600 casualties in six weeks.

His unit was the first to arrive at Dachau concentration camp.

"It didn't matter to me that when we played in Topeka, Kansas, in '46 that we didn't have fancy uniforms," Williams, 81, recalled. "We wore khaki pants and red T-shirts with '1042' on the front. The local paper called us the 'Raggedy Ass Nine.' Well, the Raggedy Ass Nine beat state champions from Dallas, Texas; Davenport, Iowa; Lincoln, Nebraska; Pueblo, Colorado; and Erie, Pennsylvania."

The Raggedy Ass Nine were actually 18 young men from the valley who had sailed home from war, formed a team at VFW Post 1042 on Vine Street in Elmwood Place, rode the rails to Topeka and returned home victorious.

"We had a helluva pitcher in Fred Jordan," Terry explained. "He served in the South Pacific aboard the Air Force's 318th troop carrier. He also averaged 14 strikeouts per game in the tournament."

Williams batted .752, and Nagel was flawless in the field. Both had been baseball and basketball stars at St. Bernard High. Terry played his ball at Hartwell High.

The next year, 1947, the defending national champions of Post 1042 - this time in crisp, new shirts and no longer raggedy - lost in the first round.

"We had a little something to prove in '46," said Nagel, chuckling.

Terry, who had torn up his left knee in the war diving into a fox hole in Belgium to escape strafing and bombing, received an artificial left knee 22 years ago.

He saw and was part of a lot in WWII: Omaha Beach, the Argonne Forest, the Maginot Line, snipers, screaming meemies, crossing the Moselle River under artillery fire, siphoning gas out of Jeeps at Metz to keep the tanks running, seeing Patton and hearing him cuss (and pray) on the radio.

Terry is proud of his service and that of his buddies, pointing with pride at each of the young men in the photo of the VFW national champions and relating their stories.

Five men survive.

The other two are pitcher Jordan, 81, now of limited mobility, and batboy Larry Williams, 69, a Korean War veteran who is now blind.

Terry pulls out a letter jacket and a gold watch, each inscribed with the words "National Champions '46." Gifts from national headquarters.

The watch works. The jacket's wearable. The Raggedy Ass Nine march on.

E-mail jerardi@enquirer.com




SUPER BOWL XXXVII
Raiders, Bucs play to their strengths
Offensive Oakland better than defensive Tampa
Super Bowl doors are now wide open
Super teams: Ten Years of Superiority
Daugherty: Two wacko teams go for broke
Romanowski obsessed with health, fitness
Mystique may give Raiders an edge
Davis has no redeeming value
Bucs' defense will prevail against Raiders
Bucs' defense facing Super test
Levels of intensity different for two coaches
Hard-hitting Alstott gives Bucs versatility
Williams' Super performance redeemed black QBs

NFL HALL OF FAME
Allen heads Hall of Fame Class of 2003
Hall voters snub Carson, Young

REDS
Reds Q&A

COLLEGE BASKETBALL
UC 83, Charlotte 79
Bearcats want their Top 25 ranking back
UC-Clermont making slow but steady progress
Xavier 75, Fordham 61
No. 8 Kentucky 63, No. 15 Alabama 46
Miami 58, Ball State 56
Cold-shooting Miami women outlast chilly Buffalo
No. 1 Arizona 91, No. 6 Kansas 74
Ohio State 83, Iowa 72
Purdue 69, No. 14 Indiana 47
Top 25: Close call for Cards
How Top 25 fared, scores

COLLEGE FOOTBALL
Ruffin's record FG wins Gridiron Classic
MU's Wauford offers regrets, resigns

AUSTRALIAN OPEN TENNIS
Agassi wins fourth Australian Open
It's same old story for Serena
Australian Open notebook

GOLF
Frazar stays atop Phoenix after third round

HOCKEY
Kovalev, Robitaille lead Pens
Panthers optimistic despite mounting losses
Amerks blank Ducks again

NBA
Van Horn, Iverson lead 76ers to win
NBA Today

GAMBLING
Sports bets just a click away on Internet

REGIONAL SPOTLIGHT
Lumpkins rides 5 winners
These old soldiers won't fade away
At least they had the course to themselves
Enquirer Page Two power rankings

PREP SPORTS
Groeschen: Rockets' basketball season sputtering
Schmidt: Diving takes its toll on oft-injured Long
NewCath 56, Holy Cross 41
Ohio boys games
Ohio girls games
Ky. boys games
Ky. girls games
Cougars awarded top seed
Swimming results
Wrestling results