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Brissie's worst hit

All he promised me was an opportunity

Annotation

Lou Brissie was raised in Greenville, South Carolina. His father was a barn stormer. Brissie's father believed in equal opportunity and was once beaten by members of the Ku Klux Klan for his beliefs. Brissie's father moved the family to a mill town about 35 or 40 miles south of Greenville. Brissie feels that the move was the best thing that could have happened to him. The town had a major league baseball stadium and he really loved it. He started pitching for the number one team. After high school he signed an agreement with the Philadelphia A's [Annotator's Note: Philadelphia Athletics] that the team would pay for his college and that he would report to the team after he graduated. Unfortunately the war started and those plans changed. Brissie feels that many men were able to step up and do what was necessary to provide for their family. Baseball was a unifying factor. In his town there was also a black team. In September 1941 Brissie started college at Presbyterian College. After a year the army offered to send him to OCS [Annotator's Note: Officer Candidate School] at Fort Benning, Georgia following his graduation. Brissie got his love of baseball from his mother's brothers. The local players were the heroes. They had very little contact with professional baseball. It was not until 1939 that the Washington ball club began airing the games over the radio. When Brissie was 16 he signed a contract with Connie Mack [Annotator's Note: Cornelius McGillicuddy, Sr., manager of the Philadelphia Athletics for its first 50 years]. He had 12 other offers including an offer of a 25,000 dollar bonus from the Dodgers. Brissie's father was a big fan and supporter of Connie Mack. When he was signed he was not designated for a particular position. He played both pitcher and first base.

Annotation

Lou Brissie's father really wanted him to finish college. Mr. Mack [Annotator's Note: Cornelius McGillicuddy, Sr., or Connie Mack - manager of the Philadelphia Athletics for its first 50 years] told his father that he would be sent to Holy Cross, Duke, or Presbyterian College. All of those schools had baseball coaches affiliated with Mr. Mack. Brissie picked Presbyterian. Brissie had gone to Philadelphia with Tom Clyde [Annotator's Note: Thomas Knox Clyde, American Major League Baseball pitcher for the Philadelphia Athletics]. They both attended Presbyterian and had signed the same type of contract. Clyde finished school in 1944 and went into the service. After the war, he resumed his baseball career but was recalled for the Korean War and was not able to pick it back up after that. At the time of the Pearl Harbor attack Brissie was in college. His family kept up with current events and discussed them regularly. The attack on Pearl Harbor took everybody by surprise. Brissie had an uncle in the navy serving aboard the Arkansas [Annotator's Note: USS Arkansas (BB-33)]. After the attack the boys tried to join the military. Some of them doubled up their class work so they could get out of school earlier. Some of them went on to have very distinguished military records. During the year he spent in college Brissie does not feel that he developed much as a baseball player. He played first base most of the time. It was in the military where he really developed as a pitcher. In December 1942 he signed up for service. He was told that if they passed they would be allowed to complete college and would then be sent to OCS [Annotator's Note: Officer Candidate School]. If they failed they would be called to active duty right away. About 30 percent, including Brissie, failed about six weeks after signing up. He was inducted into the army in March 1943.

Annotation

Lou Brissie's Uncle Robert was around the same age as he was and was more like a brother to him. Robert was already in the service and landed in North Africa in November 1942. That and having many high school friends in the service fueled Brissie's desire to join. Brissie never thought about the war shortening his baseball career. The war affected many people's careers. Many professional baseball players left their teams and went off to war. Many of them were wounded or got sick and were not able to return to the sport. It never entered their minds to protect their careers instead of serving. Many mother and sisters and daughters went from home making to tanks, planes, welding ships, and numerous other wartime jobs. The unity of purpose made the United States invincible. When Brissie went into the service he was sent to Camp Croft [Annotator's Note: Camp Croft, South Carolina]. He was part of the 30th Battalion and played on the battalion baseball team. The team's coach really helped him to develop as a pitcher and the infantry training put him in much better shape. After basic training he took combat training. After that he met Sergeant James Bryant. Brissie was from the south and Bryant was from the north and they could not understand each other during their first conversation. The sergeant was a believer in cross training and really helped Brissie. In the spring of 1944 Brissie arrived in Naples, Italy. There he was assigned to the 351st Infantry Regiment, 88th Infantry Division.

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[Annotators Note: Lou Brissie served in the army as an infantryman in Company G, 2nd Battalion, 351st Infantry Regiment, 88th Infantry Division and took part in combat operations in Italy.] The 88th Infantry Division was the army's first all draftee infantry division. During the 14 months the division was in Italy it suffered what amounted to 100 percent casualties. The nickname of the 88th Infantry Division is the Blue Devils. The 88th fought alongside soldiers of many different nationalities. The 88th Infantry Division was highly decorated. Brissie was a member of Company G, 351st Infantry Regiment. He was wounded on 7 December 1944. The division was fighting in the mountains in some difficult terrain. Brissie took part in the drive on Rome. He claims that the 88th Infantry Division was the first division to enter Rome. He claims that Mark Clark [Annotator's Note: General Mark Clark, commander of the US 5th Army] asked the 88th to pull back so the 3rd Infantry Division could enter the city first. There is a group of 88th Infantry Division veterans who have kept the division’s association alive and kept up the unit's history. In September 1944 Brissie was participating in the Apennine campaign. It was believed that if armored units could break out into the Po Valley they could rush forward and bring about a quicker end to the war. Larry Akin was a friend of Brissie's from Presbyterian. He was a Technical Sergeant and was killed around 20 September [Annotators Note: 20 September 1944]. Larry was a role model for Brissie. Larry was what Brissie wanted to be. Many of the division's old timers were lost during that campaign. On one occasion a forward observer called down heavy artillery fire within 50 yards of the American forces allowing two companies to withstand a German regiment sized attack.

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[Annotators Note: Lou Brissie served in the army as an infantryman in Company G, 2nd Battalion, 351st Infantry Regiment, 88th Infantry Division and took part in combat operations in Italy.] When the Germans moved back [Annotator's Note: during the Apennine campaign in Italy in September 1944] they had their artillery zeroed in on the Americans. The campaign ended in October when the rains came. The weather was terrible. The men began patrolling until the weather was good enough for the vehicles to move again. During this time everything had to be hauled by mules. Brissie gives credit to the mule skinners. When the campaign ended for the winter Brissie's unit was pulled off the line and sent to a rest area. Brissie has a photograph of himself at the rest area. Everyone had a bath, shave, and were given clean clothes. They then had their picture taken so they could send it home to their family. The men stayed in a hotel and had hot food for a couple of days. Then they went back into the line. Back on the line, one squad from each platoon was sent to an area out in front of the lines. They did a lot of reconnaissance and combat patrols. When they went out on combat patrols they had additional men that went out with them. These patrols began around 3 November [Annotator's Note: 3 November 1944]. On Thanksgiving Day, 30 November, they were called and told that they would have a turkey dinner delivered to them in their positions. This had been promised by President Roosevelt. That night they had their turkey dinner. During the day Brissie's group had to remain hidden in their positions because if they moved the Germans would spot them.

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On the night of 6 December [Annotator's Note: 6 December 1944] Lou Brissie was called and told to have his men ready to move out at three in the morning because they were going to be relieved by elements of the 85th Infantry Division [Annotator's Note: during the Apennine campaign in Italy in September 1944]. They were to leave everything but their rifles and canteens. Around three am the men of the 85th came up and were briefed about the situation. Brissie took his men to the assembly point where his men took hot showers and were given a clean uniform. Then they got a hot breakfast of hot cakes, eggs, sausage, and toast. The men enjoyed it very much. After the meal they were to be brought back to an assembly point from where they could walk to their positions. After seeing an artillery shell hit about 150 yards away the men all got out of their trucks. The second shell hit right at Brissie's feet. When he sat up he could see the blood running off of his face. He tried to crawl to cover. Brissie rolled over onto his back to check himself to see how bad he was hurt. It was about that time that Brissie saw something. It was not a white light but similar. When Brissie was growing up, going to his grandma's house was a special occasion. The whole family would gather and after dinner grandpa would hold court around the table and everyone would discuss current events. Even the little ones were allowed to chime in. Brissie looked down and saw his whole family. His granddad had his hand out pointing at Brissie's chair as if to call him to his home. Brissie faded out after that. When he came to he was at the battalion aid station. The chaplain was kneeling over him talking to him then he was brought into surgery. During the trip to the first hospital Brissie had been placed on the front of a jeep. A shell detonated wounding him in the shoulder and throwing him off of the jeep.

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Major Brubaker [Annotator's Note: spelling unknown] operated on Lou Brissie. Brissie thought his entire squad had been killed. He begged the medical personnel at each hospital not to amputate his leg. He was sent to a hospital in Florence, Italy, and then to one in Naples. Brissie woke up and talked to a doctor and told him that he was a baseball player and begged him not to amputate his leg. That was the first time he met Dr. Brubaker. Brissie was in bad shape. Brubaker went to the hospital commander about Brissie. Brissie was put on penicillin therapy to kill the bacteria in his leg. He also had a complete blood replacement. Brissie had multiple operations and Brubaker saved Brissie's leg. At a reunion in the 1990s Brubaker told Brissie about what he had suffered from and what was done about it. There were 200 doctors in that hospital and none of them thought that Brissie would ever lead a real active life. In the spring of 1945, several months after being wounded, Brissie was flown from Italy back to the United States.

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Lou Brissie was taken into surgery on 11 December [Annotator's Note: 11 December 1944]. After the operation he returned to the ward and saw that there were only two men remaining there. The rest had been shipped home. One was Joe Cain who was from Chicago. Cain had been in a tank battalion and had a broken foot. The man in the next bed was Waturo Oie [Annotator's Note: unsure of spelling], a Japanese-American Nisei soldier. In September, Oie had been pinned down by a German machine gun. He was hit numerous times. The damage done to him required extensive operations and he had been in the hospital for about three months by the time Brissie got there. Oie wanted to paint and would pester the nurses for paint and for permission to go out onto the sun deck but they would never bring him out there. After the war Brissie tried to locate Oie but could not. On the day Brisse was taken from the hospital to return home, the hospital staff finally brought Oie some paint and brought him out on the sun deck. After being given penicillin for an extended period of time, the patient starts to smell like it. The nurses had to change his linens daily. Brissie was able to locate one of the ward workers after the war but the man has since passed away.

Annotation

When Lou Brissie returned to the United States he first went to Finney General Hospital then to Northington General Hospital. When Brissie got to Northington there was a ward full of guys who had reconstructive surgery. The men were all in the same boat. They began to lean on each other for support and information. Dr. Brubaker was awarded a Surgeon General's Commendation for what he had done to Brissie. Brubaker refers to the operations he performed on Brissie as the most rewarding single event to happen to him. At Northington, Brissie was told that Major Serassi [Annotator's Note: unsure of spelling] was the best surgeon there. Brissie told the major his story but the major had a full case load. Brissie finally convinced the major to look at his wounded leg. After looking at Brissie's wound he took over his case. That began a lifelong relationship. They became great friends. Brissie was discharged in the spring of 1946. On 1 July 1946 Brissie reported to the baseball club but his leg became infected again. He was sent to Valley Forge Army Hospital. Brissie spent three to five weeks there before the infection was taken care of.

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Mr. Mack [Annotator's Note: Cornelius McGillicuddy, Sr., or Connie Mack, manager of the Philadelphia Athletics for its first 50 years] had sent Roy Mack out to talk to Lou Brissie. They agreed that Brissie would sit out that year [Annotator's Note: 1946]. After getting out of the hospital Brissie returned to South Carolina to wait for the next season. Brissie did a lot of walking to try to stay in shape during the winter months. In December he signed a contract. He went to spring training in 1947 in the minor leagues. After spring, Connie Mack offered him two options. One was to go to Buffalo to a AAA team. The other option was to go to Savannah. Brissie chose Savannah. In his first appearance in Savannah Brissie was brought in as a relief pitcher. On his first pitch he balked with the bases loaded. He relieved a couple more times and did not do well. Then he won twelve games in a row. Brissie's catcher had the knack of talking to his pitcher about game situations. This catcher made a big impact on Brissie's first year. During his first year in Savannah Brissie ended up winning the playoffs. On the last day of the season, Brissie went to Yankee stadium and pitched against the Yankees. It was the first Babe Ruth Day. All of the great old timers were there and they played an old timers game. These old timers were all the ones who Brissie read about growing up and he was in awe at the game. He lost the game five to two. All Mr. Mack ever offered Brissie was an opportunity. He had even written Brissie when Brissie was recovering from his wounds.

Annotation

In 1948 Lou Brissie went to spring training, after which he returned to Philadelphia to play the Phillies. After the first game Earle Brucker, the pitching coach, approached Brissie and Phil Marshall. Phil had been a member of the Royal Canadian Air Force and had been shot down over the North Sea. He was picked up by the Germans and spent time as a prisoner of war. In 1947 Phil won 17 or 19 games. Phil was a nervous wreck like Brissie. Everybody came home and dealt with it on their own. The baseball season opener was a double header in Boston. Brissie and Phil were sent to Boston ahead of the rest of the team. Phil was to pitch the first game and Brissie would pitch the second. In the sixth inning Williams [Annotator's Note: Ted Williams] came up. He hit a line drive back at Brissie that knocked him off his feet. Even though the ball rolled out into right field Williams stopped at first. When time out was called Williams went to the mound to see how Brissie was. Brissie thought that he was right back where he began. He thought that his leg was damaged again. Brissie fell when he tried to throw his first pitch. Three days later his leg turned red and he knew that the infection was back. When the infection was gone he went back to the team. Brissie never told anyone when his leg gave him problems for fear that he would be released from the team. Later in the year, Ted Williams hit a home run off of Brissie that left the ball park. Brissie made a joke and Williams got a chuckle out of it. After Brissie left baseball, he would go to the Hall of Fame to give out the legion awards. He saw Joe DiMaggio and introduced himself. Then he introduced his family to Joe. Brissie would not read the book that later came out about DiMaggio because he heard that it knocked him. Brissie thinks Joe did a lot of small favors that he was never credited for. Brissie always admired him.

Annotation

On the night of 6 December [Annotator's Note: 6 December 1944] Lou Brissie was called and told to have his men ready to move out at three in the morning because they were going to be relieved by elements of the 85th Infantry Division [Annotator's Note: during the Apennine campaign in Italy in September 1944]. They were to leave everything but their rifles and canteens. Around three am the men of the 85th came up and were briefed about the situation. Brissie took his men to the assembly point where his men took hot showers and were given a clean uniform. Then they got a hot breakfast of hot cakes, eggs, sausage, and toast. The men enjoyed it very much. After the meal they were to be brought back to an assembly point from where they could walk to their positions. After seeing an artillery shell hit about 150 yards away the men all got out of their trucks. The second shell hit right at Brissie's feet. When he sat up he could see the blood running off of his face. He tried to crawl to cover. Brissie rolled over onto his back to check himself to see how bad he was hurt. It was about that time that Brissie saw something. It was not a white light but similar. When Brissie was growing up, going to his grandma's house was a special occasion. The whole family would gather and after dinner grandpa would hold court around the table and everyone would discuss current events. Even the little ones were allowed to chime in. Brissie looked down and saw his whole family. His granddad had his hand out pointing at Brissie's chair as if to call him to his home. Brissie faded out after that. When he came to he was at the battalion aid station. The chaplain was kneeling over him talking to him then he was brought into surgery. During the trip to the first hospital Brissie had been placed on the front of a jeep. A shell detonated wounding him in the shoulder and throwing him off of the jeep.

Annotation

Mr. Mack [Annotator's Note: Cornelius McGillicuddy, Sr., or Connie Mack, manager of the Philadelphia Athletics for its first 50 years] had sent Roy Mack out to talk to Lou Brissie. They agreed that Brissie would sit out that year [Annotator's Note: 1946]. After getting out of the hospital Brissie returned to South Carolina to wait for the next season. Brissie did a lot of walking to try to stay in shape during the winter months. In December he signed a contract. He went to spring training in 1947 in the minor leagues. After spring, Connie Mack offered him two options. One was to go to Buffalo to a AAA team. The other option was to go to Savannah. Brissie chose Savannah. In his first appearance in Savannah Brissie was brought in as a relief pitcher. On his first pitch he balked with the bases loaded. He relieved a couple more times and did not do well. Then he won twelve games in a row. Brissie's catcher had the knack of talking to his pitcher about game situations. This catcher made a big impact on Brissie's first year. During his first year in Savannah Brissie ended up winning the playoffs. On the last day of the season, Brissie went to Yankee stadium and pitched against the Yankees. It was the first Babe Ruth Day. All of the great old timers were there and they played an old timers game. These old timers were all the ones who Brissie read about growing up and he was in awe at the game. He lost the game five to two. All Mr. Mack ever offered Brissie was an opportunity. He had even written Brissie when Brissie was recovering from his wounds.

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