Baseball in Wartime - Okey Mills

Baseball in Wartime

Baseball's Greatest Sacrifice


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Purple HeartOkey Mills

 

Date and Place of Birth: March 3, 1915 Sweeneysburg, West Virginia

Died: January 2, 2001 Crab Orchard, West Virginia
Baseball Experience: Semi-Pro
Position: Pitcher
Rank: Private
Military Unit: HQ Company, Third Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment US Army

Area Served: European Theater of Operations

 

Okey A Mills was born March 3, 1915, in Sweeneysburg, West Virginia. He was a 1932 graduate of Woodrow Wilson High School and was in the first two-year graduating class at Beckley College. Mills excelled in baseball as a centerfielder and pitcher in the Coalfield League and drew the attention of professional baseball scouts.

 

In 1933, Mills became assistant jailer at Raleigh County Jail and later went to work in the mines.

 

Mills entered service with the Army on November 19, 1942. Following basic training he volunteered for the paratroopers - attended Parachute Jump School at Fort Benning and was assigned to the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR), 82nd Airborne Division, at Camp Blanding in Florida and then Camp Mackall in North Carolina. It was during this time that Mills had an opportunity to limber up his pitching arm. The ball team at Camp Mackall was strong. The line-up was dotted with semi-pro players, and Mills shared pitching duties with Lefty Brewer, a minor league pitcher from Florida. The 508th Red Devils played all through the long, hot summer during off-duty hours, they clinched the Camp Mackall championship with a 26-4 won-loss record, and one of their few losses was at the hands of an all-star team put together by Babe Ruth.

 

In March 1944, as part of the invasion build-up the 508th PIR was posted overseas. They were based in Nottingham, England, where Mills had the chance to play one last ball game before going into combat. On Sunday, May 28, 1944, an enthusiastic crowd of 7,000 fans gathered at Meadow Lane soccer ground to see the 508th Red Devils play an exhibition game against the locally based 505th PIR Panthers. Mills started the game and was relieved by Brewer in the fourth inning. "Lefty had one of the best pick-off moves I've ever seen," Mills recalled some years later. "He picked off the first two men that got on base - just left 'em high and dry." The Red Devils outclassed the Panthers, 18-0.

Eight days later, as night fell on June 5th, Mills and the men of the 508th - faces blackened and hearts racing - boarded transport planes for the flight across the English Channel. That night over France, 24,000 Allied paratroopers ascended through the darkness into chaos and confusion. Inexperienced pilots failed to locate designated drop zones and whole regiments landed miles from intended locations.

 

Mills survived Normandy and was also involved in Operation Market Garden - the largest airborne operation in history that occurred in Holland in 1944. This heroic operation was dramatized in the movie The Longest Day. Mills was twice the recipient of the Purple Heart.

 

In July 1945, with the war over in Europe, Mills was able to pull on his baseball uniform once more. It was more than a year since he had pitched a ball. The 508th Red Devils played a season of games at Frankfurt Athletic Field with Mills hurling many thrilling victories during the late summer months.

 

Following his military service, Okey Mills returned home to become the youngest jailer in the history of Raleigh County, West Virginia and in 1948, he was elected to his first term as Sheriff of the county.

 

Sheriff Okey Mills of Raleigh County (front row, center) with his deputies

 

In 1953, Mills was elected as the thirty-ninth Sergeant at Arms of the House of Delegates in 1955, he served as a safety inspector for the Department of Mines. In 1956, Mills was elected to his second term as Raleigh County Sheriff. He was reelected in 1964, 1972 and 1976. He is the only West Virginian ever elected sheriff for five terms.

 

Throughout his lifetime Mills had continued to play baseball and pitched in the Raleigh County League when he was in his sixties.

On January 2, 2001, Okey Mills passed away following a long illness at Beckley Hospital in Crab Orchard, West Virginia. He was 85.

 

Thanks to the late Okey Mills for help with his biography.

 

Created January 22, 2007.

 

 

Copyright © 2007 Gary Bedingfield (Baseball in Wartime). All Rights Reserved.