Browns’ Bob Neighbors left singular legacy as hero
Ultimately, Neighbors became the last major leaguer to be killed in combat.
Following a “cup of coffee” in the majors, Neighbors exchanged a baseball jersey for a military uniform in his early twenties to serve in World War II. Deciding to make the military his career, he would make the ultimate sacrifice during the Korean War.
Instead, Neighbors chose to remain in the military. And while his diamond skills were still evident as he both played on and managed successful military teams, he also saw combat during the Korean War in the early 1950s.
By the time the Korean War fighting ended after three years on July 27, 1953, almost 40,000 Americans had died and over 100,000 were wounded. More than 100 major leaguers served, but most remained stateside. Neighbors was the only big league baseball player killed in combat during the Korean War.
During the Korean War, Air Force Major Neighbors with the 13th Bomb Squadron of the 3rd Bomb Group was a B-26 Invader pilot. Stationed at an air base in Korea, he and his two other crew members were on a night mission on Aug. 8, 1952. After reporting they had been hit and were bailing out, they were not heard from again and were reported missing.
On Sept. 3, 1952, newspapers across the country reported Neighbors was missing in action.
“He (Neighbors) was on a bombing mission and had successfully carried out his attack on the first target,” wrote the Sporting News. “En route to the second target, trouble developed and radio contact with him was lost.”
Neighbors’ wife, Kitty, was advised by the War Department that his plane was damaged by enemy fire during a night bombing mission on Aug. 8, and that the crew reported they were bailing out over enemy territory. He had a 2-year-old son, Cameron, at the time.
Officially listed as missing in action and presumed dead, Neighbors’ body has never been recovered.
His legacy as a hard-working ballplayer and a hero off it, however, remains intact.
Bill Francis is the senior research and writing specialist for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum