Before the Houston Astros beat the L.A. Dodgers 7-6 in 11 innings to bring the 2017 World Series to a thrilling 1-1 tie, a special ceremony took place honoring six Vietnam veterans, who all happen to be California natives.
Among the six was former L.A. Dodger pinch-runner, 1.000 batter and 1963 World Series winner, Roy Gleason. Gleason played eight games for the Dodgers and earned a World Series ring before spending three years in the minors and then being drafted to the Vietnam War in 1967.
Because he was supporting his mother and two sisters financially, Gleason thought he was ineligible for the draft. But, his paperwork took too long to clear, so he served eight months in the jungle, throwing grenades for the Army instead of baseballs for the Dodgers.
“That was one way my baseball abilities helped,” he told the L.A. Times in 2003. “They used to say that I didn’t need to shoot out of a cannon, that I already had one.”
While out on a mission one day, a shell exploded and left him with severe wounds to his left calf and left wrist.
“Medevacked out of the area, Gleason moved from hospital to hospital — first in Vietnam, then in Japan, then, finally, back in the United States — with only his pajamas and a handful of toiletries,” Ted Berg from For the Win wrote. “While at Letterman Army Hospital in San Francisco, months after his injury, he finally received a package containing the contents of his foot locker. But somewhere along the way, both the World Series ring and a tailor-made sharkskin suit he had bought in Hong Kong went missing.”
Honorably discharged, he returned to the Dodgers, hoping to earn another World Series ring, but he wasn’t the same with shrapnel left in his calf. So, he called it a baseball career and and worked as a furniture mover, a bartender and a car salesman.
Now 74, Gleason is the last MLB player to receive a Purple Heart.
In September of 2003, the Dodgers invited him to throw the ceremonial first pitch, but had a special surprise for him after the throw.
“I short-hopped it, and I went, ‘aw, well, at least I didn’t bounce it bad’ — it hit the dirt right in front of the plate,” he said. “And as I’m walking off the mound, Vin Scully goes, ‘Hold it right there. Hold it, Roy,’ and I thought, he wants me to throw the ball again. He says, ‘we’ve got something else for you,’ and the whole Dodger team came out on the field. I’m thinking, ‘What is going on here?’
“That’s when he said, ‘In Vietnam, you lost your 1963 World Series ring. We’ve got Jim Tracy and the whole Dodgers team to present you with your 1963 world championship ring.’ I thought, ‘I don’t believe this.’ It just floored me. I didn’t know what to do. I was lost for words, I didn’t know whether to cry, laugh, or smile. I was just in shock. It was just so thoughtful of them. It’s a night I’ll never forget — best night of my life.” (For the Win)
What a way to get a ring back.
Fast forward 14 years and during Game 2’s “Hero of the Game” welcome, Gleason stepped onto the field with Marine Corps veterans Jay Vargas and Bill Hutton, Capt. Jon Williams of the U.S. Army, Capt. Charlie Plumb of the U.S. Navy and former Air Force fighter pilot Jerry Knotts. The group was recognized by the crowd of 50,000-plus crowd and enjoyed the flyover by the U.S. Navy.
“We’re not really being honored ourselves,” Hutton told MLB.com. “We’re representing all those who served in Vietnam, in all branches of the service. I feel grateful and humbled to be able to do that.”
And we say thank you to you all.