Local Little League Honors Fallen Heroes with Memorial Wall of Baseballs
In recognition of the U.S. service men and women who have lost their lives in the war on terrorism, the Whitman Little League of Whitman, Mass., erected a memorial at their Clinton-Bradshaw Memorial Fields complex.
Chris Johnson, the league’s president and creator of the memorial wall, had no concept of the impact the encased baseballs would have on the local league, and the suburban community on the outskirts of Brockton.
“There is nothing more American than baseball, except for the flag,” said Mr. Johnson. “Politically, the wall doesn’t change your view of the war. What it does is give you the sense that soldiers there are dying, and whatever we do we have to support them and their families.”
Originally, Mr. Johnson decided to dedicate one Little League game to each soldier who had perished, but as the fatalities grew, there were not enough games to keep pace. Eventually, the idea evolved into stacking baseballs in custom-built, flag-draped cabinets.
At the time, the cabinets had room for 900 baseballs. Mr. Johnson’s friend Don Rice, a Vietnam veteran, and his wife, Janene, spent hours documenting the baseballs.
“We now have around 1,400 balls and we will keep going until we are out (of the war),” said Mr. Johnson, who is adamant that the memorial is not an antiwar protest. “The majority of kids over there played Little League in some fashion. This is not meant to be a statement. It’s a memorial. We thought there is nothing else that says America like baseball, because baseball means so much to people.”
As the war on terrorism progresses, names will continue to be etched on to baseballs and placed in the case, which continues to stretch down the first-base side of the Little League field.
The players in the Whitman Little League see the memorial everyday. Mr. Johnson believes that the experience has been a positive one.
“When the players see the memorial, they realize this is truly a game they are playing,” Mr. Johnson said. “They now play the game knowing that if they lose it’s not the end of the world … It’s not life or death, it’s just a game.”
When American forces return home, the families of the deceased will receive the baseballs and the cabinets will come down. What will remain is the memorial plaque that reads, “In memory of those who gave all – Operation Iraqi Freedom.”
The project and its upkeep have been paid for by Mr. Johnson, who has no relatives in the service, and is not a veteran. Donations have come in from all over the country, and the memorial has drawn travelers and well-wishers from throughout the northeast.
“It’s been amazing to see the response of people,” said Mr. Johnson. “I didn’t realize the magnitude of what we were doing. The mere fact that people don’t know how many people have died makes this worth it.”