1st Battalion 22nd Infantry

 

Pete Petropoulos Company D 1st Battalion 22nd Infantry

 

 

Pete Petropoulos

 

 

Pete Petropoulos

Date and Place of Birth: February 20, 1915 Queens, New York

Died: December 1, 1996 Atlanta, Georgia

Baseball Experience: Minor League
Position: Pitcher
Rank: Staff Sergeant

Military Unit: Company D, 1st Battalion 22nd Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division, US Army

Area Served: European Theater of Operations

 

 

Peter J “Pete” Petropoulos was born in Queens, New York, on February 20, 1915.

The left-handed hurler was a batting practice pitcher with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1938. He signed a professional contract in 1939
and was assigned to the Daytona Beach Islanders of the Class D Florida State League, where he posted a 10-9 won-loss record.
In 1940, Petropoulos was with the Fort Lauderdale Tarpons of the Class D Florida East Coast.
He had a 7-4 record as a pitcher and also played first base and the outfield.

On March 6, 1941, Petropoulos was drafted into the Army and entered military service at Jamaica, New York.
His enlistment record gave his home of residence as Queens County, New York and his civilian occupation as
Athletes, Sports Instructors, and Sports Officials. He had completed three years of High School and at the time
of his induction he gave his marital status as single with dependents.

He was a member of the 22nd Infantry at Camp Gordon, Georgia and pitched for the 1st Battalion baseball team.
On June 8, 1941, Petropoulos threw a 4-0 no-hitter for the 22nd Infantry Regiment team against the 20th Engineers
at Fort Benning, Georgia. During the winter Petropoulos, who had played professional basketball
in the American Basketball League, coached the basketball team.

In November 1941, he wrote Bob Mann of the Long Island Star-Journal: "With playing basketball, maneuvers in Louisiana and now in
North and South Carolina, have been all over the South. But I still wish I was back in Queens. This isn't an easy life."

In 1942, Corporal Petropoulos was assigned to Camp Gordon, Georgia, where he married Gloria Odom, pitched for Camp Gordon team and also
for Waynesboro in the Georgia State (semi-pro) League. During the winter of 1942-1943, he captained his basketball team to the 4th Infantry
Division title with a record of 28 victories and six defeats for the season.

In April 1943, after two years at Camp Gordon, Petropoulos was transferred to Fort Dix, New Jersey. In January 1944, Staff Sergeant Petropoulos
left the safety of the United States and arrived in England as part of the D-Day invasion build-up with the Company D, 22nd Infantry Regiment,
4th Infantry Division.

On June 6, 1944, the 4th Infantry Division landed at Utah Beach in Normandy, France. "I thought I saw plenty playing baseball over the country,"
he told Lou O'Neill of the Long Island Star-Journal, "but my eyes saw much more over there. We (he and 23 men of his machine-gun section)
established the beachhead on Normandy on June 6 - D-Day - and kept on going forward. We had to plough through water for two miles.

"On June 7, at 2PM, our lieutenant took us to a position in between two open fields. We were in a hedgerow. The Jerries hit us from the front right side
and worked to our rear. My battalion laid a smoke screen and fell back to a better position. The 24 of us were alone fighting. I told my men to pull out
while I threw a few hand grenades — and hoped for "strikes" — to give them cover. But in a few moments the Jerries hand-grenaded me. Only three
of my men got away and I was the only one left alive on the field. The Jerries killed the other 20. I played dead.

"On June 8, the Germans put me in a barn with other American wounded. After I had lain there for two days and one night they took us to Monteburg,
12 miles from Cherbourg. All of us lay there with the American forces hitting the town day and night and the Navy shelling the town from the Channel.
The torture we went through I will never forget. We had only a glass of milk a day with some crackers. No medical aid. And both of my feet were hit,
shot twice in my left leg, my right femur broken with a hole in it as big as an indoor baseball. My left hand was broken. The town was finally taken
June 19, 11 days later, by my regiment. The doctor said only my good physical condition pulled me through."

Petropoulos was shipped back to the United States with a Silver Star and Purple Heart. He was sent to Rhoads General Hospital
in Utica, New York, where it was feared he might have to have both legs amputated.
Seven major operations followed and the former ball player’s legs were saved.

 


SSG Peter Petropoulos' decorations

 

 

 

Although he would never be able to play professional baseball again, an injury to his hand could have resulted in him being
a more effective hurler than before the war. A medical report by Doctor John J O’Bell of Rhoads General Hospital
orthopaedic section read: “The sergeant cannot play professional baseball again, due to compound fractures in the upper thigh bones,
which, while healing entirely, may leave a slight stiffness. However, he can pitch as well as ever, and it is likely he may pitch better
than before, because the second metacarpal of the left hand, also injured by shrapnel, will have a new formation in healing
that will make possible a better curve. It is reasonable to expect that he can make a fine coach or instructor in physical education.”

 

Pete Petropoulis (center) with Baseball Hall-of-Famer Frankie Frisch (right)
Frisch was known as the "Fordham Flash," and his all time Hits record for switch hitters stood for over 40 years,
until broken by Pete Rose in 1977.

 

After Petropoulos left hospital he went to work for the New York Giants as a scout, and in 1948 he became a goodwill ambassador
to servicemen and veterans, conducting The Sporting News Sports Caravan, which, in conjunction with Liggett & Myers
the makers of Chesterfield cigarettes, visited veterans’ hospitals in the New York metropolitan area. “I know from my long years
of association with Pete Petropoulos,” David Woodside told The Sporting News, “that he can talk the language
of any vet either in or out of a hospital.”

This tour was later expanded to take in veterans’ hospitals in southern states, and Petropoulos also managed
the Chesterfield-Sporting News (later Chesterfield Satisfiers) baseball team that played at veterans’ hospitals for the next 12 years.

 

Chesterfield Satisfiers in 1958 (Petropoulos is standing on far left)

 

 

 

     

Chesterfield cigarette ad in
Life magazine, late 1940's.

On the left Ernie Harwell, Marine Corps
veteran and Baseball Hall of Fame
broadcaster for Detroit.

On the right, Pete Petropoulos, veteran of
1st Battalion 22nd Infantry and
professional baseball player,
scout and coach.

Pete is wearing his 22nd Infantry
uniform.

Note 22nd Infantry DUI's
on the lapels of his coat.

Webmaster's collection

 

 

 

Chesterfield advertisement
featuring Pete Petropoulos.

Ad shows Petropoulos on right
visiting a veteran in the hospital
and giving him a carton of cigarettes
and a copy of
The Sporting News.

Note ad states Petropoulos is a
"HOLDER OF THE SILVER STAR,
BRONZE STAR AND PURPLE HEART".

     

 

 

By 1950, Petropoulos was running Greater New York Sports Promotions, an agency booking events for baseball and basketball teams,
including his own professional basketball team – the Long Island Bombers. In 1955, The Sporting News gave him his own column –
Sounding Off with Pete Petropoulos – in which Petropoulos gave his views on all major sports.

Pete Petropoulos passed away on December 1, 1996 in Atlanta, Georgia, aged 81. He is buried at Arlington Memorial Park in Atlanta.

 

 

 

 

 

Burial:
Arlington Memorial Park
Sandy Springs
Fulton County
Georgia, USA

 


Grave marker for Peter J. Petropoulos.
Note the Prisoner Of War medallion affixed to the marker.

Photo by PLM from the Find A Grave website

 

 

 

Baseball's Greatest Sacrifice website

 

Information and photos submitted by George Heidt, HHC 1/22 Infantry 1969-1970

Much of the above information from the Baseball In Wartime webpage

 

 

 

 

 

 


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