The OGP promotes courage and compassion, both evident on Feb. 3, 1943, when a German submarine torpedoed the army transport Dorchester. Four chaplains aboard immediately began distributing calming words and lifesaving equipment. When lifejackets ran out, each of the men gave his own to other passengers, and as the ship sank, survivors reported the chaplains, arms locked, praying and singing hymns. Today the four, a Jewish rabbi, Catholic priest and two Protestant ministers are remembered as “The Four Immortal Chaplains.”
On Immortal Chaplains Day, Feb. 3, 2021, Wayne Terwilliger died at age 95. He was a World War II Marine veteran, baseball lifer and set a lifelong example of giving to others. When I was 2, my dad built a house in Bloomington so we could grow up in the country, and when the nearby corn field became Metropolitan Stadium, Terwilliger played second base for the home team, the Minneapolis Millers.
Living behind us, the “Twig” let an aspiring group of B.A.A. Little Leaguers hang out in his yard, teaching life lessons disguised as baseball tips: “A lot of times it seems like nothing’s going on, but when the pitcher winds up, a good player thinks ahead. Look where the runners are and think: ‘If the ball comes to me, what should I do?’ You don’t want to panic and mess it up by throwing to the wrong place.”
The “Twig” showed us how to make double plays, and sometimes we did, leading us to that year’s All Bloomington Championship. We played under the lights at Legion Field where Interstate 35W now crosses 98th Street, and the “Twig” came to cheer us on because there was no Millers game that night.
When the Twins won the 1991 World Series, I was a storyteller and video specialist at Pillsbury School in Minneapolis. To me it was no surprise that the “Twig” was a highly respected coach.
I called him and identified myself as the kid who mowed his lawn when he played for the Millers and helped us become Little League champions. I invited him to tell baseball stories to Glory Oljace’s fifth-grade class, and we put our guest ballplayer on closed circuit TV for the whole school. The respected coach spoke and took questions with the same care he showed us when we were that age, and a week later he sent me a poem, using the names of all the students in Glory’s class.
I started paying attention to baseball again, and now go to Twins games when I can, taking advantage of half-price veteran tickets. Among the many adult books I’ve read is “Terwilliger Bunts One,” full of baseball and military stories one could tell to children. It includes the one about being chased by a Japanese tank, zig-zagging through the soft South Pacific sand, trying to be a harder target to hit.
It’s good for children to understand that athletes, like everyone else, are bigger than any immediate perception. Once when knitting came up, a boy said with disdain, “Knitting is for girls.” All I could remember was, “Oh, I don’t know... Rosey Grier used to knit, and he was a veteran and famous football player.” Needing more of the story, I went back and found he played for the Giants and the Rams in the 1950s. Technically, Grier did needlepoint, a cousin to knitting, but I also found that after football, he was an actor and a body guard for Bobby Kennedy’s family.
When Kennedy was assassinated, Grier’s courageous response kept that tragic killing from escalating into something more horrendous. Then he went on to be a part of the Marlo Thomas children’s program, “Free To Be You and Me.” Grier wrote and sang, “It’s all right to cry. Crying takes the hurt out of it” ... another thing the misguided might say is just for girls. Then there’s Tom Cornish, a 96-year-old Minnesota WWII veteran who spends a lot of time knitting hats for those in need. Seven veterans: Cornish, Grier, Terwilliger and the Chaplains. All stories inspiring courage and compassion in children.