James E. Dowling passed away in May, a bit shy of becoming a centenarian.
He was a very special member of the Greatest Generation,
Having been drafted at age 18 in 1942, becoming a bombardier / navigator
Under also-actor Jimmy Stewart, his Flight Leader. Then, two years later,
At the ripe old age of 20, he became Second Lieutenant Dowling. He flew
Eleven missions — but the final one, a bombing run over Kassel, Germany,
Turned bad and his plane was hit and shot down. James became
A Prisoner of War. There were massive, coordinated bombing attacks that day,
September 27, 1944; Dowling’s group was targeting a tank manufacturing building
But he went down and soon found himself in a POW camp – and that was where
Baseball — that uniquely American game — provided him with sanity, for he
And those held with him played baseball games to pass the time every single day they could.
Baseball gave him the important link to home and thoughts of peace. The images
Of baseball gloves and the stitches around the ball must have brought him thoughts
Of his hometown and crowds of loved ones and of neighbors fantasized
In imagined seats cheering him on, and that must have given him the needed
Connection to what awaited him on the day to come when he and the others
Would be liberated, for in 1944 Germany was quickly dropping from first place to last.
Consider his spirit as the ball went around the field and tied together all the players
Wanting and waiting to return to their homes; comprehend the running of the bases
As predictive of the run one day soon into the arms of those left behind, those
Who missed them so, those whose lives, on hold, would then be capable of scoring runs
And winning games after all those deadly necessary years played out on the road.
There is no substitute for victory, and as James engaged in his POW camp games
He must have smelled the grass and seen home plate and known the time would
Soon arrive when he could play the great and cherished National Pastime,
Stand at attention while he heard the words praise “the Land of the Free
And the Home of the Brave, hit the ball with all his youthful power
And run without those cast-off prison boundaries till he came
All the way home to his nation’s shouts and cheers.