Each August, Americans remember the end of World War II, one of the most transformative periods in our nation’s history. The people who fought for freedom worldwide, and the people who supported that fight at home, rode the momentum from the end of that war to do nothing less than rebuild 20th-century America.
Journalist Tom Brokaw called those Americans “the Greatest Generation.” So do we.
The Augusta Chronicle has profiled many of these veterans over the years. On Sunday, this section will highlight the Augusta-Richmond County Historical Society’s Veterans’ History Project, the sweeping volunteer effort to record the firsthand stories of the remaining remarkable men and women who fought in World War II.
Each story is special. But we like one in particular.
Lou Brissie, now 89, lives in North Augusta. He pitched for South Carolina’s Presbyterian College in the 1940s, and was a pro prospect for the Philadelphia Athletics. But like many of his classmates, he wanted to serve his country in the ongoing war. He got his chance, shipping overseas in 1944 with the Army’s 88th Infantry Division.
On Dec. 7 of that year, amid heavy fighting in northern Italy, a German artillery shell exploded near Cpl. Brissie, mangling his left leg. Doctors were ready to amputate, but for days Brissie pleaded with medical staff to save his leg at all costs, to preserve his chances of ever becoming a big-league baseball pitcher.
Two years, 23 major operations and 40 blood transfusions later, Brissie emerged from the war a decorated veteran, with a metal brace on his leg and a promise of opportunity from legendary Philadelphia manager Connie Mack.
After Brissie pitched a stellar season in the minors in 1947, Philadelphia called him up to pitch the last game of the season, against the New York Yankees. He lost the game, but won his spot in the majors. Brissie went on to pitch seven seasons with the A’s and the Cleveland Indians. He is one of the 100 oldest living baseball pros.
When someone once asked Brissie if he thought he was a hero, this is what the Purple Heart and Bronze Star recipient said: “I don’t think I am. I knew some.”
That tells you everything you need to know about Lou Brissie.
Today he’s hospitalized at Augusta’s VA, in the same facility where in past years he has visited hundreds of soldiers to boost their morale.
And his remarkable story is just one of the thousands from the legions of heroes who comprise our Greatest Generation. And theirs are stories we must never forget.