May 24, 2020

Memorial Day & Charlotte Baseball

Remembering two former Charlotte Hornets players who gave their life for their country during World War II.

Remembering two former Charlotte Hornets players who gave their life for their country during World War II: Pitcher Lefty Brewer (on the left) and outfielder Elmer Gedeon.

In Memoriam of ELMER GEDEON

Elmer Gedeon was the nephew of former New York Yankees third baseman Joe Gedeon. From 1935-1939, Elmer was a standout athlete at the University of Michigan starring in baseball, football, and track & field. In track, he set or matched school and national records. In 1938, Gedeon won the Big Ten high hurdles crown and became the first person to match Jesse Owens’ low hurdles time of 7.2 seconds.

In 1939, Gedeon decided to seek a career in baseball – the sport he loved most – and forego a trip to the Summer Olympics (which were to be held in 1940 before being cancelled due to the World War). Elmer signed with the Washington Senators and spent the 1939 season with the Class-D Orlando Senators, hitting .253 with 4 home runs in 67 games. He earned a late season call-up to the big leagues, appearing in 5 games with the Washington Senators.

Gedeon helps Hornets win a twin-bill July 6, 1940 at Hayman Park in Charlotte vs the Richmond Colts. In the 2nd game, Gedeon hits a 1st inning HR.

Gedeon spent the entire 1940 baseball season with Washington’s Class-B affiliate, the Charlotte Hornets of the Piedmont League. He hit .271 in 131 games for Charlotte, improving his power swing hitting 20 doubles, 9 triples, and 11 home runs. In January 1941, Gedeon received a summons for military service. He went ahead and went to Charlotte to prepare for the upcoming baseball season, but left the team in March to join the Army.

In the fall of 1941, Gedeon joined the Army Air Force and earned his pilot’s wings and was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant. In 1943, he was promoted to 1st Lieutenant and joined the 394th Bomb Group. After being promoted once again, this time to Captain, Gedeon and his 394th crew were transferred to England in early 1944.

Elmer Gedeon (standing, far right) with his B-26 Bomber Crew

On April 20, 1944, five days after turning 27, Gedeon was piloting one of 30 Marauder B-26 bombers on a bombing mission to a German VI site in France. Around 7:30 that night, the bombers approached their target and encountered heavy anti-aircraft fire. Gedeon was able to guide his bomber over their target and release its payload before his plane was hit by an anti-aircraft shell. His co-pilot was able to escape the plane, but not before finding Gedeon unresponsive and hunched over the plane’s controls. The plane eventually crashed into the ground taking the lives of the 6 remaining crew members, including Captain Elmer Gedeon.

Gedeon is one of only two players with Major League experience to have died during World War II while serving in the military, the other being the Philadelphia A’s Harry O’Neill.

In 1951, a scholarship was named in his honor at the University of Michigan, the Elmer Gedeon Memorial Scholarship. In 1983, Gedeon was inducted into the University of Michigan Hall of Honor for track and baseball.

In Memoriam of LEFTY BREWER

Forrest Brewer grew up near Jacksonville, FL playing sports to escape the hardships surroundings his family. Being a southpaw, he earned the nickname “Lefty” at a young age and quickly proved his athleticism shining above all the neighborhood kids in sports.

While playing baseball for his high school and a local service station, Brewer joined a baseball training school and was noticed by Fred Hering, the General Manager of the Class-D St. Augustine Saints of the Florida Coast League. He was signed by the Saints in 1938 and proceeded to win 25 games for St. Augustine, posting a 1.88 ERA in 297 innings and accumulating 234 strikeouts. On June 6, 1938, Brewer threw a no-hitter, walking 1 and striking out 14 against the Orlando Senators. Brewer was selected as a Florida State League All-Star that year and led the league in wins and strikeouts.

After the 1938 season, the Washington Senators purchased Brewer’s contract and assigned him to the Charlotte Hornets for the 1939 season. Hornets’ manager Calvin Griffith felt that the 20-yr old Brewer wasn’t ready for Charlotte and Brewer was sent to the nearby Shelby Nationals of the Tar Heel League. After pitching 19 games for Shelby, Brewer was sent to the Orlando Senators, joining the aforementioned Elmer Gedeon. In 22 games for Orlando, Brewer went 7-11 with a 3.85 ERA.

Lefty Brewer showing a Charlotte Hornets fan how to throw a curveball
Brewer in the US Army’s 508th PIR

In 1940, Brewer joined Gedeon in Charlotte and pitched the entire season alongside future Hall of Famer Early Wynn. Brewer won 11 games for the Hornets and sported a 3.68 ERA, becoming a fan favorite in the Queen City. In 1941, Brewer was invited to Washington’s big league spring training, but one week before reporting, Brewer enlisted with the Army.

At Camp Blanding in Florida, Brewer joined the 31st Infantry Division and then joined the Army’s elite paratroopers. He trained with the paratroopers at Fort Benning in Georgia and earned the coveted Silver Wings upon his training completion. Brewer eventually rose to the rank of Staff Sergeant.

In late 1940, Brewer joined Company B of the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR). In March 1944, Brewer’s 508th PIR arrived in England during the war. On June 5, the 508th regiment boarded C-47s to cross the English Channel to spearhead the D-Day invasion. After parachuting at 2:00AM the next morning (along with 24,000 other Allied paratroopers), Brewer and his company found themselves away from their intended drop zone. After being surrounded and fighting against German forces near the Merderet River, Brewer was unable to escape and was killed by machine gun fire.

On May 30, 1946, a memorial service was held at Griffith Park before the Charlotte Hornet’s game, to remember Elmer Gedeon and Lefty Brewer, both killed in WWII.

In 1988, Brewer was inducted into the Jacksonville Sports Hall of Fame.

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