Jackie Robinson’s story has been told time and time again through many different forms of media. The most recent — and most popular — story told about Robinson’s life was in the film 42, starring the late actor Chadwick Bosman.
Robinson is best known for being the first African American baseball player in Major League Baseball, playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers. There is one thing about Robinson most people don’t know.
If you haven’t seen the movie, the opening scene starts with a voiceover from Wendell Smith, an African American journalist, played by André Holland, saying that in 1945 “America’s greatest generation came back from war. […] Men returned home. Among them, some of baseball’s most beloved names.”
These prolific players include Stan Musial, Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Warren Spahn, Yogi Berra, Pee Wee Reese, Phil Rizzutto, and Hank Greenberg, just to name a few. But did you know that Robinson also served in the United States Army?
Yes, you read that correctly. Robinson was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1942. He was initially stationed in Fort Riley, Kansas, and assigned to a segregated cavalry unit, and soon after, Robinson was commissioned as a lieutenant in January 1943. It was long before he was transferred to Fort Hood, Texas where Robinson joined the 761st tank battalion called the “Black Panthers”. It seemed like Robinson would soon find himself on the front lines of World War II, but, he was never given that honor.
While boarding a bus in July 1944, Robinson was told to take a seat in the back, an order he refused to follow. Robinson was then court-martialed, and even though he was eventually acquitted of all charges — by an all-white panel made up of nine other officers — he wasn’t able to deploy with his unit during his court proceedings.
Robinson spent the rest of his military career at Camp Breckinridge in Kentucky and was a coach for Army athletics, and was honorably discharged in 1944. But what seemed like the end for Robinson was just the beginning of his eventual fame.
As we all know, Robinson went on to dominate the baseball game and made his way to the MLB, and retired from the game in 1956. Robinson passed away in 1972, but his wife, Rachel, was determined to continue his legacy and founded the Jackie Robinson Foundation. Through the foundation, Rachel has been able to continue her husband’s passion and drive to be an inspiration to everyone.
Photo credits: Picryl (header image), Picryl