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Joe Thorn

Ballplayers Wounded in Combat


Date and Place of Birth: October 13, 1914 Princeton, WV
Date and Place of Death:    September 13, 2009 Princeton, WV
Baseball Experience: Minor League
Position: Pitcher
Rank: Unknown
Military Unit: US Marine Corps
Area Served: Pacific Theater of Operations

 Joe D. Thorn, the son of farmers Charles and June Thorn, was born in Princeton, West Virginia on October 13, 1914.

In his late teens, Joe pitched for the Princeton Athletics and the Presbyterian Patriots before spending 22 months in a Civilian Conservation Corps camp.

In late 1936, he was playing semi-pro baseball in Evansville, Indiana, with the Goldblumes team, when he was seen by Frank W. Rickey, brother of Branch Rickey and vice-president of the Cardinals organization. Rickey signed the youngster to a contract and he joined the Cardinals for spring training at Daytona Beach, Florida, the following year before being assigned to Union Springs of the Class D Alabama-Florida League in 1937. In 13 appearances, Thorn was 3-2 with a 4.43 ERA.

In 1938, Thorn was back with the Union Springs club and hurled 224 innings for an 11-14 record and 3.66 ERA. He was selected by the Columbus, Georgia, club for the 1939 season, but was optioned to the Williamson Red Birds of the Class D Mountain State League, posting a 1-8 record in 10 games with a 7.45 ERA. His Red Bird teammate was an 18-year-old pitcher who could hit by the name of Stan Musial. Thorn finished the 1939 season with Worthington Cardinals of the Class D Western League, where he was 4-13 with a 3.97 ERA in 20 games.

It’s not clear why Thorn’s minor league career ended with the 1939 season, but he continued to play baseball. In 1942, he was playing in West Virginia’s Raleigh County League for the Otsego-Mullens team, and was with the Koppers team of Helen, West Virginia, in the same league in 1943. However, baseball of any kind came to an end when Thorn entered service with the Marines. He served in the Pacific and was at Iwo Jima in 1945. On February 19, advancing from the beach at Iwo Jima, a bullet ripped through his pitching hand and he fell on the sand, surrounded by hundreds of his dead and dying comrades. He was down for nearly an entire day before a fellow Marine noticed he was breathing and got him to safety.

He never received the Purple Heart earned at Iwo Jima. “They mailed my purple heart to Elgood, Virginia, and I never received it,” Thorn joked some years later. “I got the papers that went with it, but I never got the purple heart. One of these days I’m going to go to Washington for it.”

Joe Thorn was 30 years old when he received his medical discharge and returned to Princeton in May 1945. He pitched a little for the local team and started a career with the Princeton Police Department. He worked his way through the ranks and was named Chief of Police in 1959, and remained there until his retirement in 1968. His love of sports and his desire to help children by encouraging athletic participation remained with him all his life, and he was one of the area founders of Little League baseball.

His son, Rod Thorn, had a career in basketball that spanned more than 50 years, excelling as both a player (Baltimore, Detroit, St. Louis and Seattle), assistant coach (New York Nets) and as a front office executive (Chicago, Philadelphia and the NBA) where he became one of the game’s most influential figures.

Joe, who suffered from Parkinson’s Disease, broke his hip in a fall aged 94, ended up in the hospital and lapsed into a coma. He had already made a deal with his wife of 70 years, the former Alma “Jackie” Cheatwood, that he’d be allowed to die at home. Jackie had her husband taken off life support and moved to the bed set up in his cherished den. Joe Thorn passed away on September 13, 2009, a month shy of his 95th birthday.

Joe Thorn is buried at Roselawn Memorial Gardens in Princeton, West Virginia.

Date Added April 28, 2020

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