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Luster Pruett

 

Date and Place of Birth: 1921 Vandalia, IL
Date and Place of Death:    January 11, 1945 Rittershoffen, Germany
Baseball Experience: Minor League
Position: Outfield
Rank: Private First Class
Military Unit: Company B, 68th Armored Infantry Battalion, 14th Armored Division U.S. Army
Area Served: European Theater of Operations

Luster Pruett batted .340 his rookie year in the Cardinals' organization but three years later he was fighting for his life on the battlefields of Europe. It was a fight he would lose in the bitter cold of January 1945.

Luster Pruett was born in 1921 in Vandalia, Illinois, a town in Fayette County on the Kaskaskia River, about 70 miles northeast of St. Louis.

He signed with the St. Louis Cardinals organization in 1941 and joined the Fostoria Red Birds of the Class D Ohio State League that year. Pruett played right field for 26-year-old manager Len Ellison and batted .340 in 87 games with four home runs and 48 RBIs. He was named to the Ohio State League all-star team in August and sold to the Meridian Eagles of the Class B Southeastern League the same month. In 14 games with the Eagles Pruett batted .205.

On March 2, 1942, Pruett entered military service with the Army at Scott Field, Illinois. Stationed at Camp Campbell, Kentucky, with the 14th Armored Division, Private First Class Pruett played on the division baseball team until going overseas in October 1944. The 14th Armored Division arrived at Marseilles in France on October 29, and Pruett was in combat with Company B of the 68th Armored Infantry Battalion by mid-November.

Also with Company B and in the same squad as Pruett was James Kneeland from Grafton, Massachusetts. “He was a real nice fellow, everybody liked him,” recalls Kneeland.

The 14th Armored Division battled its way across France and first entered Germany on December 16, 1944. On January 13, 1945, the Division was in the vicinity of Rittershoffen, just north of the Haguenau forest, when German forces broke through and drove out the U.S. 42nd Infantry Division.

The re-equipped German 21st Panzer, 25th Panzergrenadier, 7th Fallschirmjäger and 47th Volksgrenadier were occupying Rittershoffen, and PFCs Pruett and Kneeland were among those rushed forward to try and take the town.

They were helping each other strap on their gear when Pruett said to Kneeland, “Jim, I got a funny feeling in my stomach. I don’t know if I’m gonna come through this.”

Jokingly, Kneeland told his buddy that he always felt that way.

“This time it’s different,” Pruett replied.

It was a bitter cold day and the infantrymen were approaching the town through an orchard when the Germans opened fire with machine guns, tanks and just about everything they had. Kneeland jumped into an abandoned fox hole. He was just five yards away from Pruett.

“I’m hit!” the young ballplayer shouted.

“Can you crawl over here?” Kneeland called out.

Pruett began to move slowly towards the foxhole as Kneeland returned the fire coming from the buildings ahead. Suddenly, a burst of machine gun fire filled the air. When Kneeland looked up, Pruett was dead.

When Pruett’s body was recovered it was riddled with nine bullet holes.

“He was a wonderful buddy and a great ballplayer,” recalls Kneeland. “He wouldn’t brag about it, even though he used to receive letters from the Cardinals. I think he even got a letter from Billy Southworth.”

Luster Pruett was 23 years old. He is buried at the Epinal American Cemetery in France.

James Kneeland, who was later promoted to sergeant, survived the nightmarish and terrifying 12-day conflict that became known as the Battle of Hatten-Rittershoffen. He lives in Grafton, Massachusetts.

 

Team

League

Class

G

AB

R

H

2B

3B

HR

RBI

AVG

1941 Fostoria Ohio State D 87 321 69 109 24 8 4 48 .340
1941 Meridian Southeastern B 14 44 2 9 1 0 0 4 .205

 

Thanks to James Kneeland for help with this biography.

Date Added: February 6, 2012 Updated June 7, 2014

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