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Bill Fennhahn

Ballplayers Wounded in Combat

 

Date and Place of Birth: January 21, 1924 Mannheim, Germany
Date and Place of Death:    February 16, 1997 Amsterdam, NY
Baseball Experience: Minor League
Position: Pitcher
Rank: Sergeant
Military Unit: Company E, 5th Ranger Battalion US Army
Area Served: European Theater of Operations

William P. "Bill" Fennhahn was born in Mannheim, Germany, on January 21, 1924. His parents, Wilhelm and Anna Hessman Fennhahn, moved to the United States when he was very young and settled in upper New York state. Fennhahn attended Roeliff Jansen Central High School in Hillsdale, New York, where he excelled as a baseball player. He enlisted in the Army right after high school graduation in February 1943.

Fennhahn was initially in the combat engineers of the 35th Infantry Division, stationed in Alabama, and then transferred to the 5th Ranger Battalion at Camp Forrest, Tennessee, in September 1943. Following training in England, the Rangers led the Normandy invasion at Omaha Beach. "The most harrowing part was getting to the top of the first hill," he recalled 25 years later. "The Germans were using 88s, and they were firing on almost a flat trajectory, just clearing the top of the hill."

Fennhahn was back in England after Normandy and was promoted from Corporal to Sergeant before returning to France.

Sergeant Fennhahn was wounded three separate times as the Allied forces advanced through Europe. The second occasion was a bizarre incident that occurred while the Rangers were involved in capturing the town of L'Hopital in France. Fennhahn, who spoke fluent German, was interrogating a German civilian when another GI in another unit heard the German and started shooting at close range. On the third occasion he was in Germany when machine-gun fire broke both his legs and severed vital nerve fibers. Fennhahn was in hospitals in Europe and the United States for sixteen months. He was also awarded the Bronze and Silver Star medals.

Despite these severe injuries, Fennhahn's pre-war ambition to play professional baseball remained with him. "He tried out for the Giants in Phoenix, Arizona, and accepted an offer to play with Peekskill," recalls his widow, Terry Fennhahn. Fennhahn made 13 appearances with the Peekskill Highlanders in the Class D North Atlantic League in 1946, and posted a 4-3 record with a 5.18 ERA. The following year - 1947 - he made three appearances with the Quebec Alouettes in the Class C Canadian-American League and was 2-0, but recurring leg problems kept him off the mound for most of the season. He was back with Quebec in 1948 and made 20 appearances with a 4-5 record and 4.60 ERA. "A lot of guts," said his manager Tony Ravish, "I always pitched him in seven-inning ball games because he had shrapnel in the back of his legs ... then his legs would get tired naturally. But for seven innings, boy, he could fire that ball for me!"

"As much as he wanted, he couldn't continue playing professionally," recalled his widow, Terry Fennhahn.

Fennhahn continued to play semi-pro baseball, however, well into the 1950s. He enrolled at the State University of New York at Oswego, played for the baseball team and attained a degree as a bachelor of science. He was employed as an industrial arts teacher in the Amsterdam School District for 14 years at the Theodore Roosevelt Junior High School and for 15 years with the St. Johnsville School District. He also served as president of the Local 1150 American Federation of Teachers.

In June 1994, Fennhahn, 70, returned to the beaches of Normandy. "Before I got here, I had the same kinds of feelings I'd had before we made the landings-on D-Day," he told The Stars and Stripes on June 6, 1994. "In your mind you visualize everything you did before you hit the beach."

He tried to locate the spot at Omaha Beach where he came ashore. "I went down to Omaha, but do you think I can find the place that I landed?" Fennhahn asked. "Everything was flat. Everywhere looked the same."

Bill Fennhahn was a member of the John J. Wyszomirski American Legion Post 701, secretary of the Amsterdam Bowling Association, and a member of the Amsterdam Bowling Hall of Fame. He passed away at home in Amsterdam, New York, on February 16, 1997, following a long illness. He was 73 years old and is buried at Pine Groves Cemetery in Tribes Hill, New York.

Date Added December 19, 2017

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