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Washington Nationals Honor Negro League Player Buried at Arlington National Cemetery

A group of professional baseball players and armed forces senior leaders stand on steps outdoors.
Nationals Visit Arlington National Cemetery
Washington Nationals personnel pose for a photo with armed forces senior leaders on the west steps of the Memorial Amphitheater at Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Va., Feb. 2, 2024.
Photo By: Elizabeth Fraser, Arlington National Cemetery
VIRIN: 240202-A-D0439-104

Former Washington Nationals pitcher and pitching strategist Sean Doolittle led a team of Nationals personnel and military officials to Arlington National Cemetery on Feb. 2, to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and honor Negro League baseball player Ernest "Jud" Wilson, who is laid to rest in Section 43.  

Joining Doolittle for the wreath laying was Col. Tasha Lowery, Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall commander, and Col. Todd Randolph, commander of the 316th Wing and installation commander of Joint Base Andrews-Naval Air Facility, and Air Force veteran Marc Barnes, Washington Nationals mailroom coordinator. The group was greeted and hosted by Col. Michael Binetti, Army National Military Cemeteries chief of staff, and Senior Enlisted Advisor Sgt. Maj. Donnie Davis. 

Laying the wreath meant a great deal to Doolittle. "I was more nervous than at the World Series," he said later. "The World Series was just baseball; once the lights came on, it was the same. But I felt privileged and proud here." 

After the wreath laying, the group traveled to Section 43 to honor Jud Wilson, a World War I veteran. Wilson played for the Homestead Grays, among other teams. The Grays played many of their home games in Washington, D.C.  

Air Force veteran Dennis Burgart, a Nationals Park tour guide, explained at the gravesite that Wilson earned the nickname "Boojum" for the echo made by his bat hitting the ball. "He was considered one of the hardest-hitting players in the Negro Leagues," he said. "Some people called him the Black Babe Ruth, but in other circles, they called Babe Ruth the white Jud Wilson." 

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Burgart explained that in 2010, the Nationals inducted Wilson and five other Grays players into their ballpark's Ring of Honor. "So, when you're in National's stadium, look at the concourse behind home plate," he encouraged. "When you see the capital G next to Wilson's name, you'll know that's for the Homestead Grays." 

Kevin Hymel, ANC historian, spoke about Wilson's military service. "Twenty-four-year-old Jud Wilson joined the U.S. Army on June 29, 1918, in the last year of World War I," said Hymel. "He joined the segregated Black 417th Reserve Labor Battalion, stationed at Camp Meade, Maryland, but the unit never deployed overseas." Hymel spoke about the harsh conditions for Black soldiers at the camp but said of Wilson that "on Nov. 1, 1918, four months into his service, he was promoted to corporal." 

"We stand on the shoulders of those giants who served before us," said Randolph, the first Black colonel to command Joint Base Andrews-Naval Air Facility. "It's through their service, commitment, sacrifice, that we're able to hold positions to help defend our nation the way we do today."  

Lowrey thanked the team for remembering Wilson's legacy. "What the Washington Nationals are doing, and what we are all doing," she said, "is making sure that we are doing the right thing for those who came before us, so that we can continue to do great things for our country." 

A person wearing a Washington Nationals jacket looks at a display case containing artifacts.
Nationals Visit Arlington National Cemetery
A member of the Washington Nationals tours the Memorial Amphitheater at Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Va., Feb. 2, 2024. Members of the team visited the cemetery to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and visit the gravesite of Army Cpl. Jud Wilson, who served during World War I and later played baseball in the Negro League.
Photo By: Elizabeth Fraser, Arlington National Cemetery
VIRIN: 240202-A-D0439-101
A group of people stand and listen as a person speaks.
Nationals Visit Arlington National Cemetery
Arlington National Cemetery historian Kevin Hymel, left, gives a tour of the Memorial Amphitheater display room to members of the Washington Nationals at Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Va., Feb. 2, 2024.
Photo By: Elizabeth Fraser, Arlington National Cemetery
VIRIN: 240202-A-D0439-100
Barnes concluded the ceremony by laying a wreath at Wilson's grave. Barnes, who had come to ANC for ceremonies as a staff sergeant in the Air National Guard, identified with Wilson. "There's a parallel there," he said. "He was in a labor unit, and as the mailroom coordinator, I do manual labor daily."  

Once the ceremony ended, Doolittle reflected on Jud Wilson. "Unfortunately, because of the era that he played in, with its racism and discrimination, he never got to be called a major leaguer," said Doolittle. "He deserved a chance to play." 

Coming together to honor and remember Wilson's legacy and hear the powerful stories of our local military leaders proved to be a memorable and impactful start to Black History Month at Arlington National Cemetery.

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