Bob Carling, 96, is a big baseball fan whose life was forever changed by his military service in World War II. From his home at the Park Springs retirement community in Stone Mountain, Carling recalled the role that sports and fitness played before the war and for American troops.
I grew up in High Bridge, N.J. (population 1,900). Our playgrounds were any vacant lots we could find. My friends never had enough kids to play nine on a side in baseball, and sometimes the outfield consisted of just one man. We didn’t have much sports equipment or facilities. Our families were not wealthy enough to do more for us, and we were happy to have what we had. I also did a lot of hiking with the Boy Scouts and spent summers swimming in a small lake.
High Bridge was an hour from Philadelphia, and my dad was an Athletics fan. The owner, Connie Mack, also managed the team. During games he wore a full dress coat, tie and stiff collar. Lou Gehrig was a real favorite of mine. We had heroes, but not like the high-priced sports people now.
My exposure to sports was through the Philadelphia Inquirer or on the radio. My father made our first radio set by putting together a bunch of wires. When people ended up talking through it, we were amazed.
I was drafted into the military in 1942. … I went to basic training and then to officer-candidate school, graduating as a second lieutenant in the coast artillery. I trained anti-aircraft troops near Savannah, and sent a lot of soldiers to shoot down Axis planes.
Physical fitness mattered, absolutely. You didn’t just ask troops to train every day and do obstacle courses. You did it, too. Even if you hadn’t competed in sports, like me, you didn’t just lay down. Everyone was very active. Fitness could absolutely save your life.
After Allied forces achieved air superiority, I trained as an infantry officer at Fort Benning. My platoon was in a small German town when the war ended, then I served in the military government in Austria.
Troops didn’t get a whole lot of sports news. I think we knew who was playing in the World Series. There was a general feeling of sacrifice home and abroad. We were all willing to give up anything for the war effort.
I think my feelings toward sports were stronger after the war. I saw TV for the first time and attended more games. Today I watch all the Atlanta Braves games. I have been very active since the war. I’ve gotten to be where I am today because of my fitness.
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