Baseball in Wartime

Baseball's Greatest Sacrifice

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World War II Hero of the Minor Leagues 


Bill Fennhahn


Born: January 31, 1924 Mannheim, Germany
Died: February 16, 1997 Amsterdam, New York 

Baseball Experience: Minor League

Position: Pitcher

Rank: Sergeant

Military Unit: Company E, 5th Ranger Battalion US Army

Area Served: European Theater of Operations

William P "Bill" Fennhahn was born in Mannheim, Germany on January 21, 1924. His parents, Wilhelm and Anna Hessman Fennhahn, moved to the United States when he was very young.


Fennhahn attended Hillsdale High School in Columbia County, New York where he excelled as a baseball player He enlisted in the Army right after high school graduation in February 1943.


Fennhahn was initially in the combat engineers of the 35th Infantry Division and then trained with the 5th Ranger Battalion which led the Normandy invasion at Omaha Beach. He was wounded three separate times as the Allied forces advanced through Europe. The second occasion was a bizarre incident that occurred while the Rangers were involved in capturing the town of L'Hopital in France. Fennhahn, who spoke German, was interrogating a German civilian when another GI in another unit heard the German and simply started shooting at close range! On the third occasion he was in Germany when machine-gun fire broke both his legs and severed vital nerve fibers. Fennhahn was in hospitals in Europe and the United States for sixteen months. He was also awarded the Bronze and Silver Star medals.

Despite these severe injuries, Fennhahn's pre-war ambition to play professional baseball remained with him. "He tried out for the Giants in Phoenix, Arizona, and accepted an offer to play with Peekskill," recalls his widow, Terry Fennhahn. Fennhahn made 13 appearances with the Peekskill Highlanders in the North Atlantic League in 1946, and posted a 4-3 record with a 5.18 ERA. The following year - 1947 - he made three appearances with the Quebec Alouettes in the Canadian-American League and was 2-0, but recurring leg problems kept him off the mound for most of the season. He was back with Quebec in 1948 and made 20 appearances with a 4-5 record and 4.60 ERA. "A lot of guts," said his manager Tony Ravish, "I always pitched him in seven-inning ball games because he had shrapnel in the back of his legs ... then his legs would get tired naturally. But for seven innings, boy, he could fire that ball for me!"

"As much as he wanted, he couldn't continue playing professionally," recalls his widow Terry Fennhahn.

Fennhahn continued to play semi-pro baseball, however, well into the 1950s. He enrolled at the State University of New York at Oswego, played for the baseball team and attained a degree as a bachelor of science. He was employed as a teacher in the Amsterdam School District for 14 years at the Theodore Roosevelt Junior High School and for 15 years with the St Johnsville School District.


In June 1994, Fennhahn, 70, returned to the beaches of Normandy. "Before I got here, I had the same kinds of feelings I'd had before we

made the landings-on D-Day," he told The Stars and Stripes on June 6, 1994. "In your mind you visualize everything you did before you hit the beach."

He tried to locate the spot at Omaha Beach where he came ashore. "I went down to Omaha, but do you think I can find the place that I landed?" Fennhahn asked. "Everything was flat. Everywhere looked the same."

BillFennhahn was a member of the John J Wyszomirski American Legion Post 701, secretary of the Amsterdam Bowling Association, and a member of the Amsterdam Bowling Hall of Fame. He passed away at home on February 16, 1997, following a long illness. He was 73 years old and is buried at Pine Groves Cemetery in Tribes Hill, New York.Minor League Baseball


Thanks to Terry Fennhahn for help with her late husband's biography.


Created April 3, 2006. Updated June 20, 2008.

Copyright © 2015 Gary Bedingfield (Baseball in Wartime). All Rights Reserved.