WARE SHOALS, S.C. — North Augusta’s Lou Brissie Jr. always remembered his hometown and Monday it remembered him back.
Brissie, 89, who survived horrendous combat wounds in World War II to achieve success as a Major League Baseball pitcher, was honored during a Veterans Day ceremony in which Ware Shoals High School’s Riegel Stadium’s baseball field was renamed in his honor.
The ceremony was streamed live over the Internet to Brissie’s room in Augusta’s Uptown Veterans Administration Hospital.
“Never in my life has anything touched me as much … and it means so much to me,” Brissie said in a response offered to the crowd over loudspeakers. “It’s such a great honor.”
Brown stone pillars of the stadium’s main gate now announce his name on twin plaques, and inside another plaque features Brissie’s image and notes his accomplishments.
Brissie’s wife, Diana, thanked the crowd and particularly Lamar Garrard, of Lincolnton, an Augusta baseball historian, who successfully pushed through the idea to rename the field.
“Now we have a home run,” she said.
Other family members, old teammates, state and local political leaders and a stadium filled with school children waving small American flags, honored all veterans during the ceremony.
The focus, however, was on Brissie. He graduated from the high school in 1941, attended Presbyterian College, then went off to fight in Europe.
Speaker after speaker praised Brissie’s military service, but they also remembered his baseball skill.
“I was watching the World Series a few weeks ago from Boston,” speaker Daniel Branyon said. “And I said, ‘There on that pitching mound in Fenway Park a boy from Ware Shoals once struck out the greatest hitter who ever lived … Ted Williams.’
“Mr. Brissie, you did Ware Shoals proud.”
Joe Anders, of Easley, S.C., said he met and played with Brissie in Riegel Stadium many years ago and if not for Brissie’s war injuries, he might have had a spectacular career.
“I tell you what, if he’d stayed healthy he’d have been one of the all-time greats,” Anders said.
Signed by Connie Mack, legendary owner of the Philadelphia Athletics, the left-handed Brissie headed for certain stardom. Wartime service, however, sent him to Italy where an exploding shell almost killed him and severely injured his leg.
Brissie endured 23 surgeries to regain his health and resume his career.
Wearing a heavy leg brace, he set minor league pitching records in Savannah before making his major league debut with the then-Philadelphia A’s in 1947.
He was an American League All-Star in 1949, and finished his career in 1953 with the Cleveland Indians. From 1954 to 1961 he was national director of American Legion Baseball.
“Lou Brissie lived the life of a true American patriot,” said Milledge Murray, a friend from North Augusta who attended the Monday event. “He spent many, many years going to the VA, talking to the wounded and giving them encouragement.
“That’s just the kind of guy he is, and that’s why so many people are here today.”