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Jim Blackburn

Ballplayers Wounded in Combat

 

Date and Place of Birth: June 19, 1924 Warsaw, KY
Date and Place of Death:    October 26, 1969 Cincinnati, OH
Baseball Experience: Major League
Position: Pitcher
Rank: Sergeant
Military Unit: 38th Armored Infantry Battalion, 7th Armored Division US Army
Area Served: European Theater of Operations

James R. "Jim" Blackburn was born on June 19, 1924, in Warsaw, Kentucky. He was signed by the Cincinnati Reds in the spring of 1941, and began his professional career with the Cordele Reds of the Class D Georgia-Florida League. After two seasons at Cordele (1-3 in 1941 and 8-11 in 1942) he moved up to the Syracuse Chiefs of the Class AA International League for 1943, where he was 0-3 with a 5.31 ERA.

On March 7, 1944 he entered military service with the Army. Stationed at Camp Wheeler, Georgia, he pitched and won 12 games for the Camp Wheeler Spokes before leaving for overseas duty with the 38th Armored Infantry Battalion, 7th Armored Division in Europe. Sergeant Blackburn was the squad leader of a light machine-gun outfit and was wounded on December 18, 1944, during the Battle of St. Vith, which was part of the Battle of the Bulge.

"That was pretty rough," he recalled in 1951. "We were sent up to support a green outfit which was having a hard time. We found the outfit disorganized and pretty soon the Germans swarmed all over us. I was hit in the leg by a piece of shrapnel and suffered concussion. We were helpless and had to surrender."

He was taken prisoner on December 23, 1944. His wife was notified that he was “missing in action” in January 1945. It was not until April the following year that she learned he was a prisoner-of-war.

For six months, Blackburn was frequently on the move as the Germans tried to keep one step ahead of the advancing Allied forces. Marching through cold, rain, sleet and snow, with a constant, gnawing hunger, no opportunity to change clothes or bathe, the prisoners quickly became emaciated and vermin-ridden. "My weight dropped to 100 pounds," he said. His feet were frozen, he lost all his toenails and he finally passed out.

Blackburn was put in a German hospital, not as a patient, but to work. "Through the grapevine and underground radio we got the idea that things weren't going so well for the Germans," he remembered, "but that's about all."

Still at the hospital, in May 1945, Blackburn heard the sound of advancing troops one night. "The Americans [69th Infantry Division] came the next morning and I was never so glad to see anyone in my life," he said. "They shipped me to a field hospital, then flew me to Paris. For a while they fed me eight meals a day to fatten me up."

He was then flown to the United States, and after a long stay in a Cleveland hospital, Blackburn returned to the Syracuse Chiefs for spring training in 1946.

Despite the trauma of the previous year, Blackburn came back in style and beat the Cincinnati Reds, 4-3, in a spring training game, but it was only a fleeting moment. He was unable to earn a spot on the Chiefs' pitching staff and was assigned to the Columbia Reds of the Class A South Atlantic League for the next three seasons (he was 10-8 in 1946, 7-11 in 1947 and 10-8 in 1948). When Cincinnati began to have pitching problems in July 1948, it was the 24-year-old right-hander they called upon for assistance. Blackburn made his big league debut against the Phillies on July 24, and appeared in 16 games with a 4.18 ERA.

He spent spring training of 1949 with the Reds but was optioned to the Tulsa Oilers of the Class AA Texas League for the regular season, where he made just nine appearance, but bounced back in 1950, with a 21-7 record and 2.74 ERA with the Oilers, earning another visit to the Reds for the beginning of 1951. Blackburn made just two brief relief appearances for the Reds before returning to the Oilers where he would remain for the season, winning 10 games.

In 1952, Blackburn joined the Kansas City Blues of the Class AAA American Association, made two appearances and was optioned to the Beaumont Exporters of the Texas League, making just four appearances. After 10 years, he rejoined the Syracuse Chiefs in 1953, looked impressive during spring training, lost his first two starts and retired from the game in early May to care for his ailing wife, Coral.

A professional archer who had won the Ohio State Field Archery Championship, Jim was an instructor for the sport in the Hamilton County Parks Department, and was also an athletic consultant for the Coca-Cola Bottling Company in Cincinnati. On October 26, 1969, Jim Blackburn passed away in Cincinnati. He was just 45 years old and is buried at Spring Grove Cemetery in the city.

Date Added December 18, 2017

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