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History and Heritage

The Final Inning for Yogi Berra

Navy Hero and Baseball great dies at 90

You could find him sitting with his arms and legs crossed, waiting to bat - Like a Yogi. Lawrence Peter "Yogi" Berra, A 15-time All Star, who famously said, "It ain't over till it's over," passed away Sep. 22 at 90 years old. But it ain't over. Not by a long shot.

The heart and soul of the man, his legacy, and the lives he touched through his naval and baseball career will live long past the flesh and bone of his body.

He grew up in St. Louis, but spent his late teen years playing in the Yankee farm system in Norfolk, Virginia. So when he turned 18 in 1943 and his draft card came in, it was only a short walk to the start of his journey as a Sailor. Although his wife of 64 years, Carmen Berra, said he never really talked about his service, he was among the men leading the largest invasion in world history.

I signed up for the amphibs (amphibious landing crafts)," he said.

Dave Kaplan, the executive director of the Berra museum, said Yogi became a "rocketboat man" because the word "rocket" appealed to him in a Buck Rogers kind of way. "He thought it had an adventurous sound to it," Kaplan said.

Rocketboats were speedy, 36-foot gunships, manned by a crew of six and armed with 24 rockets and two .30-caliber machine guns and a twin .50-caliber machine gun. The men on the boats trained in a top-secret program, preparing for a dangerous mission; those 24 boats would be out in front of the full landing force of the Allied invasion on D-Day June 6, 1944.

Of the invasion he said, "Being a young guy, you didn't think nothing of it until you got in it. And so we went off 300 yards off beach. We protect the troops."

For the next twelve days his boat was ordered to shoot down enemy aircraft. They accidentally shot down an American plane, but managed to save the pilot. He went on to serve in a second assault on France for which he received a medal from the French government.

"It was like the 4th of July out there," Berra said. "You couldn't stick your head up or it would get blown off."

Sixty years later, he received the Lone Sailor award from the U.S. Navy Memorial, an honor given to sailors who use skills learned in the service to advance their careers, and in 2013 he earned the Bob Feller Act of Valor award.
Four baseball players honored for their service in WWII.

Four of Major League Baseball's greatest players gathered at Nationals Park, home to the Washington Nationals, to be honored for their service in World War II. American Veterans Center President James C. Roberts, center-right, presented Hall of Fame catcher Yogi Berra, center-left, with the 2010 Audie Murphy Award for his Navy service. Also attending was pitcher Lou Brissie, left, second baseman Jerry Coleman, center, and outfielder John "Mule" Miles, right. Photo by Jian DeLeon

Of his time in service Berra said, "I sit and I thank the good lord I was in the Navy," said Berra. "We ate good, clean clothes, clean bed. You see some of these Army men, what they went through, that's the one I felt for."

Yogi's career in baseball following World War II is among the most well-known. He played in fourteen World Series, won ten championships, and hit the first pinch-hit home run in World Series history. A fifteen-time All-Star, he was awarded MVP in 1951, 1954, and 1955. Yogi continued with the sport as a manager after the 1963 World Series.

Berra was also known for his wit and his Yogi-isms which include:

"When you come to a fork in the road, take it."
"We made too many wrong mistakes."
"The future ain't what it used to be."
"It gets late early out here."

However, the one that sticks out today is this:

You should always go to other people's funerals; otherwise, they won't come to yours."

No worries Mr. Berra, the stands will be packed.

Three photo layout showing Yogi Berra as a Sailor, with a group at World Series, and a poster selling war bonds.

Left: An advertisement depicting Yogi Berra to sell war bonds. Center: First Lady Michelle Obama, Dr. Jill Biden, Yogi Berra and retired Army Capt. Tony Odierno, A West Point graduate and Yankees employee who lost his left arm in Iraq, take to the field at Yankee Stadium for Game 1 of the World Series between the Philadelphia Phillies and the New York Yankees, in Bronx, N.Y. October 28, 2009. (Official White House Photo by Samantha Appleton) Right: Yogi Berra in his Blues as Sailor while serving in the Navy during World War II.

Mr. Berra appears in a 1976 issue of All Hands Magazine.
From Ben Franklin to Yogi Berra, All Hands Magazine, January, 1976.

All Hands Magazine, January, 1976.