Just learned of the passing of George Yankowski, an Army sniper in the Battle of the Bulge who told me about the sound of bullets whizzing past his helmet during combat, knee-deep in snow, with friends falling around him. George was one of the first players I spoke with a few years ago. I also had a chance to get to know his wife Mary, and son, George Jr. Born in Cambridge, MA, in 1922, George Sr. broke in with the Philadelphia Athletics at age 19, when he was managed by Connie Mack. That summer, George also managed and caught for Babe Ruth's Military Service All-Star Team, where he stood behind the photographer who snapped one of the most famous wartime pictures ever taken with Ted Williams and Ruth, who was "drinking beer out of white pitcher" on that blistering hot day at Fenway.
George was one of the guys who remembered the old wooden ballparks without lights, the trolleys whizzing past ballparks, and the days when Red Barber called his games on the radio. Most interestingly, George returned to MLB after the war as a catcher for the White Sox in 1949. To me, that's where his true resilience showed as an athlete, and a veteran. When we spoke I was struck by George's humble, nonchalant attitude. Like his MLB WWII peers, he had all of the Greatest Generation virtues: George was duty-oriented, devoutly Godly, and fearless; he played a lot of golf, took cruises and was never sick; he was also a devoted family man who took more pride in his military service than any other contribution he made in baseball, that's for sure. Thank you George for all you did to make our country a better, safer place to live. It was a grand life to be remembered.