There is a major motion picture coming out on Friday, and if it weren’t for Fort Hood, the movie may have never been made.
The movie is “42” — a film about Jackie Robinson, the famous baseball player who was the first black athlete to play in the major leagues way back in the late 1940s.
From all appearances, Robinson’s experience at Camp Hood — which Fort Hood was called back then — was terrible: He was harassed by military police, yelled at by bus drivers and even court-martialed. But Robinson’s experience here may have played a pivotal role in America’s civil rights movement.
According to an article that ran last week in the Killeen Daily Herald, Robinson was a second lieutenant stationed with 761st “Black Panthers” Tank Battalion before he was a famous ballplayer.
In 1944, he took a bus to the hospital in Temple. On the bus ride back to Fort Hood, the bus driver told Robinson to get to the back of the bus. Robinson refused. Military police were called in, and Robinson ended up being arrested and court-martialed. He was acquitted, however, and was soon transferred to Camp Breckinridge, Ky.
Apparently, while he was at Breckinridge, another solider encouraged Robinson to write and ask for a tryout with the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro American League.
An offer from the Monarchs came a few months later, after Robinson had been discharged from the Army.
Robinson, a four-sport athlete at UCLA prior to joining the Army, played well for the Monarchs but was given a better offer by Brooklyn Dodgers manager Branch Rickey (played by Harrison Ford in “42”) later that year. After playing in the minor leagues for a year and a half, Robinson made his Major League Baseball debut on April 15, 1947.
Yes, it was a baseball game. But it was also an historic event, breaking baseball’s color barrier, and paving the way for the civil rights movement that would come in the next two decades.
In the article that ran in the Killeen Daily Herald last week, experts said Robinson’s Army experience helped prepare and steel the ballplayer for the massive insults and racial slurs he would take in baseball. There is probably a lot of truth to that.
I read online what I could about the movie “42” —named after Robinson’s jersey number — but I wasn’t able to find out if Fort Hood is in the movie. Seems like it should be, though.
The descriptions I’ve read about “42” say the movie is about the history of Jackie Robinson’s life. If that’s true, then Fort Hood would be a big part of that. If a film crew filmed here last year, we would have probably heard about it, but that doesn’t mean the “Camp Hood” scenes were filmed elsewhere.
If the filmmakers left Robinson’s Army experience out of the movie, I’d say they’ve made a big mistake. As with anyone else who serves in the Army, the experience usually has a lasting impact on their life. I would think the same was true for Robinson, who went through basic training, officer candidate school and had to deal with a whole bunch of racist people at the time.
Robinson was a special person, with a lot of God-given talent, but the discipline that his Army, and Fort Hood, experiences taught him is probably what made the difference in those early, painful years of Major League Baseball.
Jacob Brooks, a former Army tanker, is the city editor for the Killeen Daily Herald. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7468.