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Francis Dunn


Date and Place of Birth: September 26, 1919, Brooklyn, NY
Date and Place of Death:    June 10, 1944 Normandy, France
Baseball Experience: Amateur
Position: Catcher
Rank: Corporal
Military Unit: Company C, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division US Army
Area Served: Mediterranean and European Theater of Operations

Francis J. Dunn, the son of George E. and Mary Dunn, was born in Brooklyn, New York on September 26, 1919. Francis played football on the junior varsity team at Erasmus Hall High School. He attanded St. Anthony's Prep and St. Anthony's College in San Antonio, Texas, and played baseball as a catcher as well as boxing as a semi-pro.

In 1940, Francis was working in the restaurant business with his brother, George, when he was given a tryout with the Brooklyn Dodgers. The Dodgers offered the 20-year-old a minor league contract but Dunn turned it down to continue working with his brother.

Dunn enlisted for military service on December 30, 1940, in Troop F, 101st Cavalry Regiment, New York National Guard. On January 27, 1941, the 101st Cavalry was federalized for what was expected to be one year of service. The Regiment was assigned to Fort Devens, Massachusetts, for training, and took part in the Carolina maneuvers in September 1941. On December 7, 1941, on the return convoy back to Fort Devens, Pearl Harbor was attacked.

He volunteered for paratrooper training immediately after Pearl Harbor and was assigned to the 505th Parachute Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division. Corporal Dunn saw combat in Africa, Sicily and Italy, before the division was transferred to Britain for additional training in late 1943.

On Sunday, May 28, 1944, the 505th Panthers baseball team - with their catcher Francis Dunn - played their final game before going into combat. Speculation still hangs over the reason this game was staged. The “official” story at the time was that the Nottingham Anglo-American Committee requested the Americans to stage a sporting event because the people of Nottingham had for years been void of entertainment. However, because the game was arranged by Brigadier General James M. “Jumpin’ Jim” Gavin, commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, many believe the game was designed to fool the Germans. If American paratroopers were playing baseball in England, how could an invasion be imminent?

May 28, 1944, was a beautiful day and an enthusiastic crowd of 7,000 fans gathered beneath clear blue skies at Meadow Lane soccer ground to see the 505th Panthers play the 508th PIR Red Devils. Wearing jump boots, combat fatigues and vests in place of baseball flannels, the Panthers were outclassed by the Red Devils, 18–0, mostly due Red Devils' pitcher, lefty Brewer - a former minor leaguer. The Nottingham Guardian the next day described how the teams “played with extraordinary vigor,” and noted there was “spectacular hitting, some magnificent catches and many exciting incidents.”

Nevertheless, there had been a noticeable absence of paratroopers in the stands at the game. Having been such a familiar sight in Nottingham for the last couple of months, only officers and players were on hand. As the crowd cheered each crack of the bat, the rest of the regiment was headed to an airfield amidst tight security. Preparations for the invasion had begun. The airfield was a hive of activity. The runways were packed with Douglas C-47 transport planes adorned with black and white invasion stripes, and groups of paratroopers meticulously studied maps of the drop zones in Normandy. They packed equipment, cleaned rifles, played cards and shot dice in the hangar buildings, attended movies, wrote letters to loved ones, and learned of their objective: to keep the Germans from reinforcing troops that were defending the beaches.

On June 6, 1944, by which time the regiment had been overseas for 16 months, Dunn was with the 505th PIR when they jumped into Normandy, France, before their scheduled "H-Hour", thus earning their motto "H-minus". Corpral Francis J. Dunn, aged 24, was killed in action on June 10, 1944.

News of his death reached his family weeks later and a solemn requiem mass was celebrated at St. Vincent Ferrer Roman Catholic Church in Brooklyn on July 10, 1944.

On June 26, 1948, more than 400 next of kin, members of the general public and military personnel attended a memorial service on the upper level of Pier No 3, Brooklyn Army Base, for 3,700 servicemen, including Francis Dunn, whose bodies arrived at the base aboard the United States Army transport Greenville Victory, from cemeteries in France.  Representative John J. Rooney of Brooklyn, the principal speaker , paid high tribute to the servicemen who made the supreme sacrifice. Major General Edward G. Plank, commanding general of the New York Port of Embarkation, presided at the service. Military and Naval honors were accorded the men, with honor guards from each of the armed services flanking two sides of the speakers rostrum.

Francis Dunn is buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York.

Brooklyn Eagle, July 9, 1944 and June 27, 1948

Date Added January 2, 2019

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