Feature   Know Your Military

Sports Heroes Who Served: From D-Day Vet to Baseball Legend

Sept. 29, 2020 | BY David Vergun , DOD News

Sports Heroes Who Served is a series that highlights the accomplishments of athletes who served in the U.S. military.

Most baseball fans of the legendary Yogi Berra probably don't know that he also served in World War II.

Berra actually signed with the New York Yankees in 1943, but put his baseball career on hold to join the Navy.

He was a gunner's mate assigned to the attack transport USS Bayfield. As a gunner's mate, Berra was responsible for the operation and maintenance of weapons and other ordnance equipment, as well as small arms and magazines.

A photo shows a ship sailing in the distance.
Sailing Ship
Attack transport USS Bayfield, flagship for D-Day's landings on Utah Beach in France, lowers a landing craft, vehicle, personnel for the assault on June 6, 1944.
Photo By: National Archives
VIRIN: 440606-O-ZZ999-001

The ship's destination: Utah Beach, France, on D-Day, June 6, 1944. 

During the invasion, Berra manned a landing craft support vessel from which he said he "sprayed bullets and rockets across the heavily fortified beach fronts before the troops landed." 

Berra was wounded in the hand by incoming enemy fire; he was later awarded the Purple Heart Medal.

In the years following his Navy service, he continued to support the troops. In 1950, he participated in a campaign with the Treasury Department to promote the purchase of U.S. savings bonds. In 2009, he received the Lone Sailor Award. and, in 2010, he was honored with the Audie Murphy Award for his Navy service.

A poster shows a man in a baseball uniform.
Poster Photo
A 1950s Treasury Department poster features New York Yankees catcher Yogi Berra.
Photo By: Treasury Department
VIRIN: 540803-O-ZZ999-001

Berra the Baseball Legend

As a player, Berra was with the New York Yankees from 1946 to 1963 and the New York Mets in 1965.

Baseball players pose for a photo.
Team Players
Yankees players (left to right): Yogi Berra, Hank Bauer and Mickey Mantle are pictured Jan. 1, 1953.
Photo By: Courtesy New York Yankees
VIRIN: 530101-O-ZZ999-002

He was an 18-time All-Star and won 10 World Series championships as a player — more than any other player in Major League Baseball history. He had a career batting average of .285, while hitting 358 home runs and 1,430 runs batted in. He is also widely regarded as one of the greatest catchers in baseball history.

Berra caught Don Larsen's perfect game in Game 5 of the 1956 World Series. He also holds the all-time record for shutouts caught — 173.

As a manager, he was with the Yankees in 1964, the Mets from 1972 to 1975, and back with the Yankees from 1984 to 1985. He is one of only seven managers to lead both American and National League teams to the World Series. 

As a coach, he was with the Mets from 1965 to 1971, the Yankees from 1976 to 1983, and the Houston Astros from 1986 to 1989.

A baseball coach patrols the field.
Baseball Player
New York Mets first base coach Yogi Berra is pictured at Shea Stadium in 1969.
Photo By: Courtesy New York Mets
VIRIN: 690101-O-ZZ999-002

Berra appeared as a player, coach or manager in every one of the 13 World Series that New York baseball teams won from 1947 through 1981. Overall, he played or coached in 22 World Series, 13 on the winning side. 

A baseball coach swings at a ball.
Baseball Coach
New York Mets coach Yogi Berra swings at a ball with a fungo bat before a game in 1981.
Photo By: Courtesy New York Mets
VIRIN: 810101-O-ZZ999-002

In 1972, Berra was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. That year, the Yankees retired his uniform, number 8. Incidentally, Bill Dickey, the Yankees coach who taught Yogi Berra the finer points of catching, had previously worn number 8 as a catcher for the Yankees in the 1930s and 40s. Both catchers had that number retired by the Yankees. Both catchers served in the Navy in World War II.

Berra the Quotable

A baseball player poses for a photo.
Baseball Photo
Yankees catcher Yogi Berra is pictured on Jan. 1, 1953.
Photo By: Courtesy New York Yankees
VIRIN: 530101-O-ZZ999-001

Outside of baseball, Berra is widely known for some memorable quotes. Here are just a few of many:

  • When you come to a fork in the road, take it.
  • You can observe a lot just by watching.
  • It ain't over 'till it's over.
  • No one goes there nowadays; it's too crowded.
  • Pair up in threes.
  • He hits from both sides of the plate. He’s amphibious.
  • The future ain't what it used to be.
  • 90% of the game is half mental.
  • It's déjà vu all over again.
  • A nickel ain't worth a dime anymore.
  • I never said most of the things I said.

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Photo By: DOD
VIRIN: 200706-D-ZZ999-903