Lou Brissie resides in North Augusta, S.C., with his wonderfully supportive wife, Diana. His stories are powerful and memorable. Brissie learned important lessons from a surgeon, a famous major-league baseball manager, an
Army Air Corps pilot and a Hall of Fame baseball player. We also can learn from his personal experiences.
A TEENAGE BASEBALL pitcher in the years just before America’s entrance into World War II, Brissie had excellent velocity and control of the ball. In 1940, the famous manager from the Philadelphia Athletics, Connie Mack, contacted Brissie. They agreed that Brissie would attend Presbyterian College then move into professional baseball. These plans changed dramatically after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Brissie joined the Army, and by the fall of 1944, infantry Cpl. Brissie was fighting in the bitter cold of the rugged Apennine Mountains in northern Italy.
On Dec. 7, 1944, he was wounded by an enemy artillery round. Brissie’s leg was so badly damaged that he feared it would be amputated. This would end his dream of becoming a pitcher in the major leagues. Brissie pleaded with his surgeon to save his leg. After the operation, Brissie woke up and, with great trepidation, looked down and saw both feet pointing straight up. Brissie’s doctor, showing both compassion and creativity, used some surgical techniques he had never tried before. His creativity saved Brissie’s chance to be a pitcher again.
After four months in a hospital in Naples, Brissie was loaded onto an airplane with a number of other badly wounded soldiers. After stops in Morocco, the Azores and Bermuda, the airplane flew over New York City. The pilot asked everyone to look out of the windows. In an act of great compassion, the pilot flew past the Statue of Liberty. He made two sweeping passes to the left and two passes to the right to make sure everyone on every stretcher got a good look at the Grand Old Lady. There was not a sound from any of the soldiers – they were so profoundly pleased that they were home and alive.
What followed for Brissie was a series of operations and hospitalizations that lasted for more than two years. The lesson Brissie teaches us is the importance of setting a goal and never giving up, no matter how much pain nor how long it takes.
IN THE MEANTIME, the ever-considerate Connie Mack sent letters of encouragement to Brissie. Mack wanted Brissie to know that he still wanted Brissie to play for him, but that he wanted him to take his time with his rehabilitation.
Connie Mack teaches us the power of kindness and patience.
Brissie’s best seasons with the Philadelphia A’s came in 1948 when he was 14–10, and 1949 when he was 16–11.
Traded to the Cleveland Indians in 1951, Brissie became a close friend of the great pitcher Bob Feller. Feller once held the record of throwing a baseball 107 miles per hour. One of Brissie’s favorite stories is when Feller, toward the end of his life, was asked about his greatest moment of satisfaction. Feller’s answer: “When, the day after Pearl Harbor, I joined the Navy so I could fight for my country.”
Feller teaches us that service above self, devotion to a great cause and patriotism all are more important than any accomplishment, no matter how memorable, on the ball field.
Brissie has spent much of his time in recent years visiting with wounded warriors and helping them deal with their injuries and their depression. He radiates kindheartedness.
Ten days ago, Lou Brissie was honored as a “Distinguished American” at the Jimmie Dyess Symposium at the Augusta Museum of History. Here is a quote from the note that Lou Brissie wrote the day after the event: “Excluding some family events, being honored by the Dyess Symposium last evening is and will be the high point in my life. ... Diana, the children and I thank you. We are truly overwhelmed.”
Brissie teaches us how to express appreciation – do it promptly, and send your thanks via a handwritten note.
FOR THOSE interested in the Lou Brissie story, The Corporal Was a Pitcher, by Ira Berkow (with a forward by Tom Brokaw), is recommended. Baseball fans, history lovers and anyone looking for a positive role model will find this book fascinating. Incidentally, Brissie’s email address is DIngate@aol.com.
(The writer – a retired U.S. Air Force major general – serves on the boards of the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation, the Augusta Warrior Project and the Augusta Museum of History. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. His web site is genpsmith.com.)