“I never said most of the things I said.” “Baseball is ninety percent mental and the other half is physical.” “It’s like deja vu all over again.” “It ain’t over till it’s over.” When you hear the name Yogi Berra, these humorous quotes are often what comes to mind. The diminutive 5’7” catcher would become larger than life to Yankees fans spanning many decades, however, what he did before baseball was something even grander.
Yesterday was the 70th anniversary of D-Day. On June 6, 1944, while US troops were storming the beaches of Normandy, 19-year old Lawrence “Yogi” Berra was a gunner’s mate on the USS Bayfield. 300 yards off the shores, Berra sat with his five other crewman and fired rockets at the German guns targets to provide cover and safety for those troops on foot storming the beaches.
While D-Day’s 70th Anniversary was commemorated in France yesterday, Berra was honored stateside at the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center. “We had orders not to go on the beach,” Berra told NorthJersey.com at the ceremony. “They went on their own, and they got it. We had to stay back and protect them.” Berra described the day as “amazing” and “awful” and recollected how three of his brigade were killed in action. “You saw a lot of horrors,” he continued. ”I was fortunate. It was amazing going in, all the guys over there.”
Also on hand at the ceremony was the Bob Feller Act of Valor Award Foundation, named after the famous Cleveland Indians right-hander who also served in the war. Quilts of Honor were there to present him with a quilt displaying a picture of him. Tommy Lasorda, perhaps the most recognizable Dodgers manager ever, was also at the museum to pay tribute.
Of course, every Yankees fan knows that when the minor leaguer returned from World War II, he went on to baseball immortality. Berra would go on to win three MVP awards while rewriting the catching position and lead the Yankees to ten World Series titles, including a run of five in a row. He would enter the Hall of Fame in 1972.
Berra would finish his 19-year major league career with a .285 batting average, 358 career home runs, and 1430 RBI. While many Yankee fans remember him as a soldier for the greatest years in franchise history, yesterday he was honored for being a hero of one of the greatest days in history. Congratulations and thank you, Mr. Berra!