Tag Archives: Larry Gilbert

Vols, Inc.: New Ownership to Save Nashville Baseball, Part 3

In September Gilbert had announced that the Vols were ending their three-year working agreement with the New York Giants, and had signed a working agreement with the Cincinnati Reds beginning with the 1955 season.

“I told Ted last fall I wanted to get out,” Larry said via long distance phone yesterday. “Gertie (Mrs. Gilbert) has had a bad hip since early in the fall and now she has a broken ankle. She needs me to be with her. I haven’t been feeling too good, either.”[5]

That was only part of the reason.  On May 21, 1955 Gilbert sells out for $125,000.00 and Murray owns the Vols lock, stock, and barrel[6]. It ends a relationship from November of 1938, when his grandfather Fay Murray brought Gilbert to Nashville and named him manager, general manager, and vice president, giving him ½ share in the team.

Gilbert’s last day with the club is set for June 1, when he will move to his lakefront estate in New Orleans.[7] As part of the Reds affiliation, his son Charlie is not retained as assistant general manager. The younger Gilbert played for Nashville under his father in 1939, 1943, and 1948, and had joined him in management of the club after his playing career.

At the suggestion of Cincinnati GM Gabe Paul, Columbia Reds (South Atlantic League – Class A) general manager Bill McCarthy will take over the same position in Nashville.

According to sports writer F. M. Williams, Ted never cared for owning the Nashville club. “If memory serves me correctly, he was in Sulphur Dell only three times last year, yet he drew a salary of five figures, not out of the ball club but out of the concessions.”[8]

Now Ted finds himself in dire straits. But saving the ball club from dying was a priority for several like-minded civic leaders had the same idea.

This is Part 3 of the ongoing story. Read more about the events that led to the sale of the Nashville ball club in 1959 in the next installment.

Note: This Nashville baseball history was presented on Saturday, March 3, 2018 at the 15th annual Southern Association Conference at Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Alabama.

© 2018 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

Sources

baseball-reference.com

newspapers.com

[5] Johnson, “Owner Change,” Nashville Tennessean, January 23, 1955, 29.

[6] Murray Buys Gilbert’s Half,” Nashville Tennessean, May 22, 1955, 29.

[7] Johnson, May 22, 1955, 29.

[8] Ibid.

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Vols, Inc.: New Ownership to Save Nashville Baseball, Part 2

A similar transaction nearly took place four years earlier. On January 14, 1955, an agreement was signed by Murray, along with business partner Larry Gilbert, to sell to a syndicate represented by Fred C. Rule, president of F. C. Rule Construction, and headed up by J. D. Jackson. Reportedly, the plan of the syndicate was to demolish the grandstand and sell the property for business purposes. A new location was to be sought to build a new ballpark, and even though the syndicate had no plans to move the franchise, it was reported that Knoxville, Tampa, and Jacksonville were anxious to obtain the franchise.

“We want a modern baseball plant,” Rule stated yesterday. “We want one that will seat something like 10,000. We believe a new park would be the best think we could do for baseball.”[3]

On January 22, 1955, co-owners Murray and Larry Gilbert confirmed that they faced the loss of their franchise. The last year for the club to show a profit was 1950; in 1948, the best year for Nashville attendance with 269,843, was the last year Gilbert was manager. At the end of that season, another syndicate tried to buy, and he refused. Now Gilbert is desperate to sell his half-interest in the club and retire full-time to his native town of New Orleans.

All this after Nashville Vols outfielder Bob Lennon won the Southern Association triple crown with 64 home runs, hit for a .354 average, and knocked in 161 runs. But only 89,470 fans attended the games at Sulphur Dell that season, a decrease of 50,000.

This is Part 2 of the ongoing story. Read more about the events that led to the sale of the Nashville ball club in 1959 in the next installment.

Note: This Nashville baseball history was presented on Saturday, March 3, 2018 at the 15th annual Southern Association Conference at Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Alabama.

© 2018 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

[3] Raymond Johnson, “One Man’s Opinion – Baseball Business Brisk Despite City’s Winter Weather,” Nashville Tennessean, January 25, 1955, 16.

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1940 Nashville Third Baseman Bob Boken

Bob Boken was born in Maryvale, Illinois, February 23, 1908, and proved to be a steady performer for the Vols’ 1940 championship team. Prior to being obtained by Nashville, the 5’ 11” 185-lb. Boken had played pro ball for 10 seasons.

He played for Washington and the Chicago White Sox in 1933 and 1934, having made his major league debut for the Senators on April 25, 1933 against the New York Yankees at Griffith Stadium, substituting for future Hall of Fame shortstop Joe Cronin late in the game.

Boken spent the better part of five seasons with St. Paul (American Association – Class AA). He had socked 21 home runs in 1938 with 19 doubles and four triples for St. Paul, one of his best seasons to date.

He was acquired by Nashville from Louisville (American Association – Class AA) on February 17, 1940. Nashville manager Larry Gilbert felt Boken was exactly what the Vols needed.

“I’ve been trying to get Boken since early last season,” declared Gilbert in announcing the deal. “…is a power hitter, not a “tapritis” hitter…I wanted a right-handed hitter for third base and he should fill the bill perfectly.”[1]

In 1940, Gilbert’s second year of managing the Nashville club, the team won on opening day and never fell below first place the entire rest of the season. Nashville finished the season with a 101-47 (.682) record as Boken and Gus Dugas tied with 118 RBI for the league lead. His season stats included 178 hits, 13 home runs, and a .302 batting average, and he was steady performer at the hot corner.

Boken had a 20-game regular-season hitting streak going until July 11 when he failed to get a hit in the first game of a double header against Atlanta. He probably has his best game of the playoffs in Game 1 against the Houston Buffaloes in the Dixie Series. Playing before 2,698 shivering Sulphur Dell fans, Nashville won 7-5 as Johnny Mihalic, Boken, and pitcher Ace Adams each have two hits apiece.

At the end of the season, Gilbert traded Boken and Mickey Rocco to Buffalo (International League – Class AA) for cash and left-handed hitting Les Fleming. Boken never quite matches his 1940 hitting ability, spending the next seven years with various minor league teams before giving managing a try with Newark (Ohio State League – Class D) in 1946 and El Centro, California (Sunset League – Class C) in 1947.  He  then hung up his spikes.

At the age of 80, he passed away on October 8, 1988 in Las Vegas, and is buried there in Memory Gardens Cemetery.

© 2018 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

SOURCES

Baseball-reference.com

Newspapers.com

Retrosheet.org

 

[1] Raymond Johnson, “New Infielder Power Hitter,” Nashville Tennessean, February 18, 1940, 41.

 

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Nashville Attendance and the Ebb, Flow of Minor League Baseball

On September 8, 1963, only 971 fans attended a double header between Nashville and Lynchburg at Sulphur Dell. It would be the final professional games played at the historic ballpark.

The end had been foretold by attendance numbers for several years. The Vols’ best year at the turnstiles had been in 1948, when 269,893 watched Nashville play, but the numbers never came close again until the death of the club. In 1954, the last of a three-year affiliation with the New York Giants, the total was 89,470. That was the year when Nashville slugger Bob Lennon hammered 64 home runs, but even that achievement was not enough to drive fans to the ballpark.

Nashville was not alone.

Fan support dwindled across the entire country during the decline of minor league baseball in the 1950s. By 1960, there were 22 minor leagues; in 1950 there had been 58.[1]

In his book, Leveling the Playing Field, Paul C. Weiler puts it in perspective.

“In the late 1940s there were more than 450 minor league teams drawing more than 40 million fans to their game – a team average of 90,000 a season. Then television arrive in American homes, drastically reducing the demand for minor league baseball. By the late 1950s attendance had plummeted to around 15 million, where it remained for the next 20 years.”[2]

The issue was such a concern to Nashville Vols co-owner Larry Gilbert that he sold his 50% ownership to his partner, Ted Murray. Soon in debt with the ball club, Murray looked for buyers, too, and in 1958 area civic leaders banded together to form Vols, Inc., a publicly-held company with intent to purchase the Vols from Murray.

Try as they may, in subsequent years fans did not show up, leading to the demise of the franchise after that fateful double header in 1963. The club drew 52,812 for their final year.

Even before World War II, when attendance waned after a sensational 1940 season. Nashville led the league from opening day, won the Southern Association regular season and playoffs pennants, then won the Dixie Series against the Houston Buffaloes. Attendance stood at 138,602 even though war was looming.

During the war years, attendance remained respectable:

1941      97,282

1942      96,934

1943      76,570

1944      146,945

In 1945, turnout was 83,014; an honorable figure as soldiers were returning home.

Sports writer Raymond Johnson, in his “One Man’s Opinion” column in the Nashville Tennessean, often addressed the issue. He could see the decline coming, and in 1952 gave his view of the matter for that season’s crowds.

“Unless the fans turn out in larger numbers when Those Vols return home Friday than they have been averaging this season, Nashville will finish last in league attendance for the first time since 1931…That was the last time Nashville finished in the cellar and the season when Those Vols set their all-time losing record of 102 games.”[3]

Baseball devotees stepped up somewhat; attendance figures ended at 113,193 for 1952.

But Johnson compared the waning appearance of fans to 1931, when totals were only 67,338. The club won only 51 games that season. He understood that fans liked to see winning baseball.

“That was the first season for night baseball in Nashville…But even the uniqueness of nocturnal ball failed to lure the fans out to see a ball club that was as interesting to watch as two black cats fighting on a moonless night.”[4]

Night baseball did not bring out fans. Neither did Bob Lennon’s remarkable home run season. Even Nashville’s unbelievable 1940 season did not relate to more fans in the seats. The 1948 season record attendance mark at Sulphur Dell occurred in Larry Gilbert’s final season as manager, then only fell to 238,034 in a Rollie Hemsley-led Vols repeat championship performance.

From then on, the challenge was a changing America: inventive television productions, expanding highways, and automobiles being produced instead of tanks.

The revival of baseball began in the late 1970s. Larry Schmittou was instrumental in bringing professional baseball back to Nashville after a 15-year drought, and was part of that revitalization.

Weiler tells how significant the interest was across the country.

“Then came the resurgence in interest in minor league (as well as major league) baseball among baby boom families who did not feel like staying home every night to watch television. By the late 1990s total minor league attendance had reached 35 million, an average of about 200,000 a season for each of the nearly 175 teams.”[5]

2016 regular season attendance for 160 teams in 14 minor leagues (including only teams affiliated with major league baseball) was just over 37 million.[6] That averages to just over 3,000 fans per game. Nashville Sounds attendance at First Tennessee Park was 504,060 in 2016[7].

Raymond Johnson, Larry Gilbert, Ted Murray, and the 4,876 stock holders of Vols, Inc. would have been happy with those numbers.

© 2017 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

Sources

Newspapers.com

Paper of Record

Sabr.org

Notes

[1] Ian Kahanowitz. “A Brief History of The Minor League’s Reluctance to Integrate (Part 3),” 27outsbaseball.com, http://www.27outsbaseball.com/uncategorized/a-brief-history-of-the-minor-leagues-reluctance-to-integrate-part-3/, accessed August 10, 2017.

[2] Weiler, Paul C. (2009) Leveling the Playing Field. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

[3] Raymond Johnson. “Vols Last in Attendance First Time in 21 Years,” One Man’s Opinion column, Nashville Tennessean, August 26, 1952, 15.

[4] Johnson.

[5] Weiber.

[6] Graham Knight. “Minor League Baseball Attendance in 2016,” Baseballpilgrimages.com, http://www.baseballpilgrimages.com/attendance/minor-leagues-2016.html, accessed August 10, 2017.

[7] “Pacific Coast League: Attendance,” milb.com, http://www.milb.com/milb/stats/stats.jsp?y=2016&t=l_att&lid=112&sid=l112, accessed August 10, 2017.

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Nashville’s Larry Gilbert: Baseball Honors A Legend

Metro Archives Photo

On Sunday afternoon, July 27, 1941, Larry Gilbert was honored as Sporting News “1940 Minor League Manager of the Year” before his team’s double header against Chattanooga at Sulphur Dell in Nashville.

It was the second ceremony of the year honoring Gilbert, the first having been held May 7, recognizing him for his 25 years in the Southern Association[1]. He was given various gifts, including a gold lifetime pass by league president Trammell Scott, a silver set from Vols team owner Ted Murray and treasurer Jack Flanagan, and his players presented him with a silver service.[2]

Gilbert began his career in local sandlots of his hometown of New Orleans, Louisiana, but found his way to the majors as a member of the famous “Miracle Braves” of 1914, which had a 26-40 record in July but managed to win the National League pennant by winning 68 of its next 87 games[3]. Gilbert was a seldom-used outfielder and appeared in 72 games, hitting .268. His only appearance in the World Series was as a pinch hitter,  drawing a walk from  Philadelphia Athletics ace Bill James.

As a 23-year-old the next season, Larry was used very little and batted a paltry .151. His career would resume in Toronto (International League – Class AA) and Kansas City (American Association – Class AA) before he joined New Orleans (Southern Association – Class A). He would remain there for nine years, becoming manager of the club in 1923, leading the club to the league pennant that season, and remained there through 1938 (he moved to the front office in 1932, but returned to the dugout in 1933).

When Nashville owner Fay Murray was looking for a manager after the 1938 season, he convinced Larry to become part-owner, general manager, and manager of the Vols. He remained as field leader through 1948, moving to the front office until 1955, when he sold his shares in the club.

Larry Gilbert’s rise to fame as the best manager in the minor leagues culminated in 1940, when his Nashville ball club led the Southern Association from opening day until the end of the season. His team won 101 games with a combined batting average of .311, pitcher Boots Poffenberger won 26 games, and reliever Ace Adams struck out 122 rival batters.

In the league playoffs, the Vols eliminated Chattanooga, three games to none, and won the playoff championship against Atlanta by winning four games to two for the Crackers, sending Nashville to the Dixie Playoffs to face Texas League champion. They polished off the Houston Buffaloes in five games, ending a remarkable season. That club was selected as the 47th best minor league of all time in 2001 in celebration of Minor League baseball’s 100th anniversary[4].

His two-year record at Nashville was 186-115, and included a Southern Association regular-season pennant, two playoff championships, and one Dixie Series title. He had previously led New Orleans to four pennants, two playoff championships, and two Dixie Series crowns.

On September 8, 1948, in his final game as manager, Gilbert was honored once again, this time for 25 years as a manager in the Southern Association, beginning with his first entering the league in 1923.  6,509 Nashville fans, Baseball Commissioner A. B. Chandler, George M. Trautman, president of the National Association, and Southern Association president Charlie Hurth, were there to bestow recognition to Larry Gilbert, the most successful manager in the history of the Southern Association.

With eight league championships, including six consecutive titles with Nashville between 1939-1944, his final record as manager for the Vols and New Orleans was 2,128 – 1,627. It was an impressive record for an equally impressive manager.

From the honors bestowed upon him, it was easy to tell that Baseball loved Larry Gilbert.

To view Gilbert’s entire managerial record, click here: http://www.southernassociationbaseball.com/managers/larrygilbert.php

Sources 

Baseball-reference.com

Newspapers.com

Paper of Record 

Retrosheet.org

Sabr.org

Southernassociationbaseball.com

© 2017 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

[1] Raymond Johnson. “Fourth Celebration Due,” One Man’s Opinion column, Nashville Tennessean, July 28, 1941, 8.

[2] Sporting News, May 15, 1941, 12.

[3] “1914 The Miracle Braves”, http://www.thisgreatgame.com/1914-baseball-history.html, accessed July 27, 2017.

[4] Bill Weiss & Marshall Wright, “Top 100 Teams: 47. 1940 Nashville Vols,” http://www.milb.com/milb/history/top100.jsp?idx=47, July 27, 2017

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“Rogue” Poffenberger Gains Split, Wins No. 15

On July 11 ,1940, Boots Poffenberger wins his 15th game as he holds Atlanta to three hits in the second game of a double header win 1-0 at Sulphur Dell, giving Nashville a split after the Vols loss to the Crackers 9-8 in the opener. Both games are seven inning affairs.

By the way of the win, Nashville (50-29) holds on to the Southern Association lead over Atlanta (51-34).

In the first game, Vols pitchers Leo Twardy, Russ Meers, and Johnny Sain are unable to hold Atlanta, allowing a total of 17 hits. Oris Hockett has two doubles and a homer, his eighth, and drives in five runs for Nashville as Johnny Mihalic adds two doubles. Bob Boken’s 20-game hitting streak is halted when he fails to get a hit in the first game.

In the second game, Mihalic hits two more doubles and scores the game’s lone run on a single down the right field line by Arnold Moser.

Known for his heavy drinking and poor training habits during two seasons with the Detroit Tigers (1937-38) and three games with Brooklyn in 1939, Nashville manager Larry Gilbert took a chance on the temperamental Poffenberger. After his splendid 1940 season (26-9), he would face manager Gilbert’s ire the next season.

Boots’ win total would be a league record that would never be matched, but he gained notoriety in 1941 by throwing at an umpire from the mound. Gilbert, declaring the right-hander would never appear in a Nashville uniform again, shipped Poffenberger to San Diego. He never regained his form and retired after spending 1947 in Hagerstown near his home of Williamsport, Maryland.

Sources

Anniston Star

baseball-reference.com

Baton Rouge Advocate

Nashville Tennessean

newspapers.com

© 2017 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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Jinxed Nashville Outfielder, Ed McBee

Edwin “Ed” McBee joined Larry Gilbert’s Nashville Vols on April 4, 1944 in Bowling Green, Kentucky, for spring training. Listed as an infielder, Gilbert’s immediate need was for more outfielders and he was pleased when McBee let it be known that he had roamed the outfield for Leaksville (North Carolina) in the Class-D Bi-State League during 1942[1].

It was McBee’s first season as a professional, but he hit for an anemic .243 average for the Triplets. The 6’1” right hander was only 19 years old in his rookie season, playing for a team which was named for three towns: Leaksville, Spray, and Draper (Eden, North Carolina, was formed in 1967 by consolidation of the existing towns.)

As a 16-year-old, the Gaffney, South Carolina native played semi-pro ball, and later for a local American Legion team. After his single season at Leaksville, he was classified 4-F due to an ear ailment in his call up to military duty in 1943 and was sent to Niagara Falls, New York. Unmarried, he worked in a defense plant.[2]

Soon after joining the Vols, the jury was still out on his abilities. Sports writer Raymond Johnson gave his opinion about the “gangling South Carolina flychaser”.

“He takes a good riffle at the ball and has got a good, free swing that is right down Gilbert’s alley. On his performance in these early sessions he will come in for a lot of consideration. Of course he yet must prove his ability, for he has not demonstrated his speed or how he handles a fly ball.”[3]

By mid-April, Ed was looking better at the plate and was nearly a cinch to make the regular-season roster. In the first exhibition game, played against Ft. Campbell on April 15, a screaming liner hit him on the foot while he was trying to make a play, resulting in an injury that hobbled him for the remainder of the game. The setback was not expected to keep him out of the lineup, however, and it appeared that he had continued making progress.

On opening night at Sulphur Dell against Chattanooga on Friday, April 28, Ed was in the starting lineup. He had solidified his position by hitting one over the fence during the Vols first batting practice after concluding their pre-season schedule.

Batting in the fifth position, he stuck out once in four plate appearances and had two putouts in centerfield, with no errors. 6,793 were on hand to view his Southern Association debut. On April 30 against the Lookouts, he had three hits including a double that drove in two runs in the first inning and a single that drove in another run in the fifth.

After five games, he was batting .305 on seven hits in 23 appearances, with 6 RBI. On May 7 in Chattanooga at Engle Stadium, he had another productive night. His three hits included his first home run and a double.

In a peculiar game on May 11 against Knoxville at Sulphur Dell, not only was the game delayed due to the late arrival of the Smokies train, the ballpark lights went out when a power transformer blew out during the third inning. Adding injury to insult, Ed was hit in the face from a foul tip off his own bat in the seventh inning and suffered a double fracture of his nose. Attempting to bunt when hit, he was carried from the field unconscious.

McBee’s batting average had dropped to .273, although he had scored 10 runs, had 11 RBI, and mastered centerfield defensively. Gilbert was hoping to have him back in the lineup in New Orleans by May 22, as the club left him behind to begin a road trip on May 15. Parker Garner, a 6’7”, 240-pound pitcher, as used by the Vols skipper to play centerfield in the absence of McBee.

Ed returned to the starting lineup in New Orleans, batting in his familiar fifth-spot, and promptly scoring two runs after a single and walk to help his club win 8-2. The next night he had two hits, and in a double header split with the Pelicans added three more.

In fourth place on May 26 and returning to Sulphur Dell to begin a series with Birmingham, Larry Gilbert shuffled his lineup and moved Ed to left field. The move was no problem for McBee, as he handled three chances flawlessly in the Vols’ win over the Barons, 5-0. With a single in the game, he increased his batting average to .300.

He slammed his second home run on June 1, his first at Sulphur Dell, with two men aboard and a 3-2 Vols lead over New Orleans in the sixth inning. Nashville went on to win 14-2 and moved into a tie with Memphis for second place in the standings.

But a few days later, it seemed Gilbert had lost confidence in McBee; but he was not alone.  Raymond Johnson laid out the problem in his June 5, 1944 “One Man’s Opinion” column.

“The failure of the outfielders – Ed McBee, Jimmy Reggio, Moses King and Bob Garner – to come through with base hits with ducks on the pond has been most distressing to the veteran Vol skipper. Time and again they have strolled to the plate with pals on the pillows and failed to produce a base hit. Quite often an easy grounder or a pop fly has been the extent of their efforts. And a few times double plays have resulted.”[4]

In that evening’s game against Atlanta, things turned from bad to worse. In the first inning, McBee let the Crackers’ Nig Lipscomb single get away from him which resulted in the first run for Atlanta. Nashville lost by a 6-5 score. On June 7 in Atlanta, Ed fumbled Ed Ivy’s single in the first game of a double header, allowing the runner to advance to second base and score on the next Crackers’ hit. The Vols lost, 5-0, and lost the night cap 3-2, giving Nashville their fifth and sixth losses in a row. McBee had three hits in the two games, including a double.

In the first game in Memphis on June 13, Ed could not hold a drive by the Chicks’ Pete Gray*, leading to an unearned run; Gilbert felt McBee had blown the game for his club[5]. The Vols ended up losing another double header, 2-1 and 3-0. Nashville dropped to sixth place in the standings with a 20-24 record, 7 ½ games behind Memphis.

Jimmy Reggio and Moses King would survive the season with Nashville, but Bob Garner and McBee would not. Ed was sold to the Portsmouth Cubs of the Class-B Piedmont League by Larry Gilbert on June 15. In 35 games for Nashville, Ed had 39 hits on 138 plate appearances for a .283 average. His hits included eight doubles and two home runs.

There is no report that McBee continued his career in Portsmouth. In the second year of a split-season, Nashville finished 32-36 in the first half, and 47-25 (79-61 combined), taking the second half crown on the last day of the season.

In the seventh game of the Southern Association playoffs, Nashville won over Memphis 11-10 for the championship.

Edwin Dupree McBee was born on July 12, 1923, in Fairmont Spa, South Carolina, to Thomas J. McBee, a cotton mill worker, and his wife Corrie. Ed passed away in New Port Richey, Florida, on February 12, 2005.

*Gray would be named Southern Association Most Valuable Player

© 2017 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

Sources

ancestry.com

baseball-reference.com

edennc.us

newspapers.com

southernassociationbaseball.com

Wright, Marshall D. (2002). The Southern Association in Baseball, 1885-1961. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co.

[1] F. M. Williams, “Gilbert Grinned Over Him,” Nashville Tennessean, April 5, 1944: 12.

[2] “Big Carolinian Ed McBee Looks Good for Vols,” Nashville Tennessean, April 8, 1944: 5.

[3] Raymond Johnson, “Ed McBee and Ernie Balser Draw Railbirds’ Attention in Workout,” Nashville Tennessean, April 7, 1944: 30.

[4] Johnson, “Vols Need Punch; 51 Left Stranded in Pel Series,” Nashville Tennessean, June 5, 1944: 8.

[5] Johnson, “Vols Get Lift, Too,” Nashville Tennessean, August 29, 1944: 9.

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