In October, 1929, just as my father and his contemporaries were entering the job market, the Great Depression crippled the national economy. A dozen years later, when countless members of “America’s greatest generation” were about to enter their peak years of earning potential, they had their hopes, dreams and lives shattered, once again, by devastating worldwide circumstances.
Prior to the Japanese sneak attack (December 7, 1941) on the headquarters of the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor on the island of Oahu, Hawaii, the future of our nation looked so bright. For my father and his colleagues in the golf business, the coming years had held much promise. The United States was taking the game of golf more seriously than at any time since the market crash of 1929, and the consensus was that unless the country was dragged into war, golf could experience a tremendous boom. But, war indeed intervened. Suddenly huge amounts of our manpower and raw materials were diverted to the war effort.
Although the United States was fully engaged in a world war at the onset of 1942, tournament golf had not yet been deeply affected. What happened was that the Tour continued on in a limited way while doing its bit for the war effort. The PGA Championship, the only national championship held in 1942 (the U.S. Open was canceled from 1942 through 1945), placed 40 percent of its purse into war bonds. A number of exhibitions to raise money for the Red Cross were staged by the PGA, with Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Byron Nelson, Jack Grout, and other star players participating and taking their expenses in bonds. Bob Hope and Bing Crosby showed up at various stops on the Tour to give fund-raising exhibitions.
In 1942 the boys played twenty-one tournaments for $116,000. In 1943, though, the Tour all but ceased to exist. There were only four tournaments played, and the PGA Championship was canceled. Gasoline rationing caused some Tour events to be canceled given that the PGA could not guarantee the tournament sponsors that the leading players would be able to appear at any set place or time. And, of course, a number of Tour players served in the military.
Ed “Porky” Oliver was the first well-known pro to be drafted. Jimmy Thomson was in the Coast Guard, Henry Ransom in the Merchant Marine. The Navy got Snead, Jimmy Demaret, Lew Worsham, Jack Fleck and Herman Keiser. Lloyd Mangrum, Jim Turnesa, Vic Ghezzi, Dutch Harrison, Jim Ferrier, Clayton Heafner, Horton Smith, Ben Hogan, Ted Kroll and Johnny Palmer were in the Army and the Army Air Force.
Of the best known pros, Herman Keiser, Vic Ghezzi, Clayton Heafner, Horton Smith, Jack Fleck, Ted Kroll, Johnny Palmer and Lloyd Mangrum went overseas. Fleck, Kroll, Palmer and Mangrum were the only ones who saw combat. Fleck was part of the D-Day invasion; Palmer was a B29 gunner on thirty-two missions over Japan; Kroll earned three Purple Hearts and was wounded four times; and, Mangrum received two Purple Hearts, and was wounded a final time at the Battle of the Bulge.
Without question, America and the PGA paid a heavy price during World War II. No one will ever know how many potential Sneads and Hogans were killed in action. I remember that my father would occasionally comment to us kids saying that he knew several wonderful golfers who never made it back from the war. One casualty was Billy Masters, Dad’s young friend and protégé at Fox Hill Country Club, who was killed in the Pacific only six months after he enlisted in the Marines. Others, he knew that lost their lives were; Stanley Pokorsky in January ’44 on the Italian front; William “Red” Francis in June ’44; and, Elwood J. Brey in the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium in 1945.