NICK EICHER, HOST: Next up on The World and Everything in It, the WORLD Radio History Book. Today, sports great Jackie Robinson’s induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame—we’ll hear part of his acceptance speech.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: But first, two wartime anniversaries: one from a Russian province during World War II and the other, from an open Pennsylvania field during the Civil War. Here’s Paul Butler.
PAUL BUTLER, REPORTER: We begin today with July 3rd, 1863.
AUDIO: Pickett’s charge reenactment
Sound from the 150th anniversary reenactment of Pickett’s Charge, as Major General George Pickett leads an assault on the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg. More than 12-thousand Confederate soldiers advance across an open field.
Gary Kross is a Civil War tour guide in Gettysburg, audio courtesy of YouTube:
KROSS: It took the confederates nearly 20 minutes to cross this field, taking fire every step of the way because as soon as they came out of these woods, 122 Union Cannons played upon their lines…
Although a small number of Confederate infantry do eventually break through the Union position, they can’t maintain their hold and are driven back.
KROSS: The advance, attack, and retreat at Pickett’s Charge took just 50 minutes. In 50 minutes, the Confederates lost 6,800 men in the effort. This was Lee’s last attempt at the Union position at Gettysburg…
Pickett’s Charge becomes the decisive moment of the war’s decisive battle. The next day, Confederate General Robert E. Lee and his decimated army retreated back to the south.
In 1913, 50 years after the engagement, Confederate veterans reenact the bloody battle. Upon reaching Cemetery Hill, they’re met by Union survivors—but this time, instead of cannon fire and bayonets, they’re greeted by outstretched hands of friendship.
Next, July 5th, 1943, 75 years ago this week.
AUDIO: Russian news footage of battle
Audio from a Russian Newsreel report on the battle of Kursk—one of the largest tank battles in history. In the summer of ’43, the Soviet Union controlled a 100-mile by 150-mile bulge, known as a salient, along the eastern front. The region protruded into German-controlled territory, and Hitler wanted it back.
So Germany amassed more than 700,000 troops to attack simultaneously from the north and the south. But before he could begin, the Soviets successfully embedded more than a million troops, and laid tank traps, barbed wire snares, and mines.
AUDIO: Sound of the battle
The battle lasts from July 5th until August 23rd, 1943. With more than 2 million troops, 4,000 aircraft, and 6,000 tanks amassed for the combat, it was the war’s largest full-scale engagement.
NEWSREEL: The 25th anniversary of the foundation of the Red Army has been marked by a series of victories which have desperately wounded the Germans and brought their prestige and morale crashing down…
In the end, the Soviets hold their ground, but at great cost—nearly 800,000 casualties—but the victory proved the beginning of the end of Hitler’s plans for taking Russia.
And finally, July 3rd, 1962.
NEWSREEL: The doors of baseball’s Hall of Fame have swung open to admit two more baseball immortals. Bob Feller and Jackie Robinson…
Jack Roosevelt Robinson becomes the first African-American inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. He played 2nd base for the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1947 until 1956. During his career he had more than 1,500 hits, 137 homeruns, 197 stolen bases and a lifetime batting average of 3-11.
At the induction ceremony, he began by thanking his three most important supporters during the early days of integration: Branch Rickey, the former GM of the Dodgers, as well as Robinson’s mother, and his wife—but he ended his speech with gratitude for the fans…
ROBINSON: I want to thank all of the people throughout this country who were just so wonderful during those trying days. I appreciate it at no end and it’s the greatest honor any person could have and I only hope that I’ll be able to live up to this tremendously fine honor. Thank you.”
In 1997, Major League Baseball retired Robinson’s number— 42—across all major league teams: He is the first recipient of such an honor. In 2014, MLB started a new annual tradition called “Jackie Robinson Day” when every player, on every team, wears a jersey featuring number 42.