While Bucky Walters is setting the pace in major leagues and Joe Veltre is off to a flying start in the Eastern Illinois, a Champaign boy is the leading pitcher in a baseball league about whom 90 percent of the sport fans of the country have never heard — Anzio league.
Pfc. Bruns, former Champaign high school and E.I. league player, has pitched 5 games at Anzio, winning them all.
“As far as I know, we are playing the first baseball ever played in a combat zone,” Bruns writes his parents, Mr. and Mrs Francis B. Bruns, 303 West Maple.
Watch from Hill
“We start the games after supper and we play right under the Jerries’ noses. The Germans watch us from a nearby hill.”
Bruns started as a shortstop but went in to pitch one game with the score 4-0 against his team. The Bruns team pulled the game out of the fire, 5-4, and he has been a pitcher ever since.
When he played in this local, Bruns was an outfielder, and a fast one. He was best know for his effortless swing at the plate. He had a smooth style the resembled a budding Joe DiMaggio.
Bats .475 in Cornbelt
Bruns hit .475 with the Illinois Billiards in 1939 and was runner up for the Cornbelt batting championship to Eddie Houston of LeRoy.
Elmer Morfey’s Billiard Boys withdrew from the Cornbelt league following that season, so Bruns caught on with the Champaign Plumbers in the E.I. He hit .392 in this league and ranked third for the year, right behind Bud Wiese and Red Pace of Tuscola. He appeared in one game of the ’41 season for the Plumbers bus soon left for the army.
A recent dispatch from the front told of the baseball games which Bruns participates. The German lines are so near, the correspondents wrote, that members of the enemy can audibly criticize the play.
Once, when a player went into second base standing up and was tagged out, a German voice shot over from a nearby hill, “Vy didn’t you slide, you dumbkopf?”
In another instance, a player was called safe sliding into home. “Vat! Dot umpire iss a robber. He was out a mile!” shouted the voice.
At the Anzio beachhead, Bruns is living in one of the flack shacks recently described by Ernie Pyle in the News-Gazette. “My buddy, Mel, and I have dug into the side of a hill. We put boards up on top for a ceiling and cardboard on the floor. We sweep the floor every morning, just like mother taught us to sweep around the house when we were kids. We have burlap sides for walls and pinups all around
Room for Two Cots
“There is room for two cots and a ledge to lay our things. We have electric lights, too. Our company captured a German generator in Sicily.”
Bruns has been in combat 18 months and has participated in four invasions — Casablanca, Sicily, Salerno, and Anzio. Joe Waters of Villa Grove and Frank (Snook) Barber of Urbana are in the same division with him, and one day he met a soldier named Pryz. “Boy you look like a guy back home I used to play ball with named Tony Pryz,” Bruns informed him. “That’s my brother,” sad Joe Pyrz.
(Tony Pyrz, former Illinois baseball captain, who played on the Billiard team with Bruns, is now coach at Philo high.) Lieutenant Verne Evans, University of Illinois graduate who was killed recently, was also with Bruns.
Ship Sinks Off Shore
Bruns says he has been lucky to escape serious injury in four invasions. At Casablanca, his ship was sunk eight miles off shore. He has not been able ot reveal details of his survival.
“We in the engineers have the most interesting job in the army,” we once wrote his parents, “and there’s only one job tougher. That’s the infantry. I don’t see how those boys in the infantry can take it. We’re right behind them most of the time but some times we’re with them or just ahead of them building roads. But we get to sleep inside, and they don’t. We ride and they walk.
“We were sure burned up about the 3d Engineers not getting much credit until one day there was a piece in the paper about what what we were doing in Italy and how ‘the eyes of the world are upon the 3rd Engineers.’ I read that in The News Gazette, and, boy, they’re not kidding when they say the eyes of the world are upon us. The eyes of those Krauts are upon us, and they’re looking right down our neck.
‘Wouldn’t Settle Down’
“I want to get the war over with and get back to a good, clean decent, respectable country. I wouldn’t settle down over here for all the dough in the world.”
Being in the engineers, Bruns has had much of the cleanup work around the battlefield and has sent home a wealth of souvenirs. German and Italian insignia, pamphlets, maps, books, medals, captured battle flags and articles fill a deep 4×1 packing box at the Bruns home on West Maple.
‘Eats Fresh Egg’
In a letter March 27, Bruns said “P.S. Mother: Had a bath and a shave today. First since January 21. “Snook (Barber) is farther back from the front lines than us and is living in a house. They bought some cows and chickens off Italians who were evacuating. I was over for dinner the other night and had my first glass of milk since went into combat 18 months ago. Also had a fresh egg.”