Baseball in Wartime

Baseball's Greatest Sacrifice

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Those Who Died That Others Might Be Free


Purple HeartJoe Laky


Date and Place of Birth: 1917 Ottawa, Illinois
Date and Place of Death: October 1, 1944 Holland
Baseball Experience: Amateur
Position: Unknown
Rank: Private
Military Unit:
2nd Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division
Area Served: European Theater of Operations


Joe Laky was born Joseph L Leki Jr in Ottawa, Illinois in 1917. He worked at the LOF Glass Company before entering military service on November 6, 1942.


Laky served with the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR) of the 82nd Airborne Division. In March 1944, as part of the invasion build-up the 508th PIR was posted overseas. They were based in Nottingham, England, where Laky had the chance to play baseball before going into combat. On Sunday, May 28, 1944, an enthusiastic crowd of 7,000 fans gathered at Meadow Lane soccer ground to see the 508th Red Devils play an exhibition game against the locally based 505th PIR Panthers. The Red Devils were far superior to the Panthers, winning 18-0.


Eight days later, as night fell on June 5th, Laky and the men of the 508th - faces blackened and hearts racing - boarded transport planes for the flight across the English Channel. That night over France, 24,000 Allied paratroopers ascended through the darkness as part of the initial phase of the D-Day landings. Private Laky was part of an 81mm mortar crew.


On September 17, 1944, Laky landed with the 508th PIR in Holland. On October 1, during the enemy's last attack in the area, Private Laky was killed.


Joe Laky is buried at the Ottawa Avenue Cemetery in Ottawa, Illinois.


Thanks to Paul DePaoli, Research Assistant at Reddick Library in Ottawa, Illinois and Dave Berry at for help with this biography.


Added September 19, 2006. Updated January 22, 2007.


Copyright © 2007 Gary Bedingfield (Baseball in Wartime). All Rights Reserved.