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Baseball pitcher lobbed shells on Hun

By Staff | Apr 13, 2017

PHOTO PROVIDED A 1932 photo baseball team during WWI, kneeling left, are: Russell Spring and the next two are unidentified. Standing are: Roy Egli, an unidentified player, Walter  Gottschall, Wilbert Reeder, Charles Strauss, Tom Umlauf, Elwood Gordner, and Delos Shaffer.

MUNCY – The following quote could easily have been the commentary for a baseball game. “We went flying, not even a stop, we were out for a finish and our work was well done.” Those words by Raymond O. Confer described the closing days of World War I in which the Corporal participated.

In a pocket notebook, the Muncian penciled experiences by his team, Company E of the 314th Infantry Regiment, as they slugged it out with the Germans. The action occurred in France during the infamous last push identified by Confer as Hill 319.

Before the war, Confer was known as having a passion for baseball. He pitched for several teams in and around Lycoming County, PA.

Prior to his military exodus, Confer went about getting his affairs in order. In Sept. 1917, he authorized the dividends of his 25 shares of Sprout-Waldron stock be directed to his father, William Confer. The document stated that, “This order to be in effect for a period of the duration of the war with Germany.” According to Raymond’s son Ray, “At age 14, my dad went to work for the Muncy based industry known internationally for fabricating grist mill equipment.”

During war years, the personal column of ‘The Muncy Luminary’ printed clips following the whereabouts of hometown soldiers. It read, “Raymond Confer is now pitching for the baseball team composed of members of the 314th at Camp Meade, MD.”

PHOTO PROVIDED WWI veteran Raymond Confer

Notations in Confer’s book didn’t begin until July 1, 1918 when he recorded leaving the barracks at 4 a.m. Riding across New Jersey, they arrived to board the USS Leviathan. Confer described the ship as “54,282 tons, 9,279 feet in length, 1,002 feet wide and a depth of 57 feet. Previously it had been a German vessel known as the Veterland, one of the largest in the world.”

Of the journey Confer wrote, “Calm, quiet, with no submarines. We had very good eats on the ship having two meals a day.” Additionally he noted, “There are about 20,000 men on board and the distance traveled on water about 8200 miles.”

Upon arrival at France, Confer indicated, “Companies were taken to shore on tugs. We lined up and marched to Camp Napoleon, an American camp of five miles reaching there at 10 p.m. It had begun to rain and was pitch-dark. The men sat on their packs until dawn.”

“On July 19th, we left Brest at 6:30 and rode dirty box cars sitting on the floor while canned food and bread was distributed. Forty men packed in each car on which was painted, 40 Hormones or 8 Chavez.” Post war, the term would be borrowed by WWI veterans when forming clubs known as the 40 & 8.”

Traveling on, Confer wrote, “The scenery is very pretty.” On a later entry he wrote, “Twenty-nine men per truck arrived at Lorette about 1 a.m. in the morning. On Sunday, Sept. 8, we marched with full packs, ammo and reserve rations.” At the next destination, he wrote “We could hear cannons for the first time and planes flying over daily. We left by truck and started for the front. From that time on we were within range of the enemy cannons.”

“While hiking 40 miles on the Verdun Road, we were always on the lookout for planes. Whenever they were visible, we had to stand perfectly still under a tree, we were not allowed to leave the woods during daytime.”

‘The Last Fight,’ was the title of the next notation. “The last day we were fighting the Germans around Hill 319. At 9:20 that morning, we were ordered to go over the top through their barrages. We went flying, not even a stop, we were out for a finish and our work was well done. They did not retreat slowly, but went back on a run. Some of our pals were lost in the fight.”

Confer continued, “We went on our way after two hours having gotten orders to lay low and out of sight for the Huns had halted and started to fight. Their machines were firing lead like rain, but we lay so low they had nothing to gain. They went back to get the one-pounders up and if they’d come back sooner we wouldn’t have gotten the news. It was brought by a runner his name Dave Fin.”

The corporal wrote, “I never saw the message, don’t know what it read. Our major said a cease fire was called for 11 o’clock and the boys started cheering like wild. At the 11th hour, the fighting stopped. The Huns and the doughboys dropped their rifles for the war was over.”

On the fly leaf of his notebook, Confer had written, “79th Division, 890 killed and 352 dead.”

Of the faded names of eight men under Cpl Confer, the following were legible; Rudolph Miller, Antonio Montafusco and Arthur Sandusky.

Though the war had ended, Confer’s outfit spent the winter of 2018-2019 in France. Ray, the soldier’s son, recalled one of the few stories told by his dad. “Keeping warm was a challenge; however the soldiers devised an excuse to enter homes. They knocked on doors and asked the occupants if they would boil the egg they were carrying. In that manner, the men could spend a few minutes inside in the warm.”

The current family speculated that the same egg may have been boiled many times over and wondered if inhabitants ever became suspicious. Even if they had, the French were grateful to their American emancipators.

In the spring of 1919, another item appeared in ‘The Luminary,’ which read, “We are hoping Raymond Confer returns in time for baseball season so he can pitch for the Soldier’s Team.”

Cpl. Confer returned to Muncy and his employer working 54 years at Sprout-Waldron. He wedded Florence, daughter of the Reverend Franklin and Eva Hartman. Their home, the Methodist parsonage, was near the baseball field where their son surmises his parents may have met.

Veteran Confer was born near Muncy, July 2, 1894, son of William O. and Ella (Rupert) Confer. He died May 5, 1972 and is interred in Muncy Cemetery. At that time, he was survived by sons Ray and Larry, a brother Lloyd, a sister Mrs. Clarence (Mabel) Rathmel, and six grandchildren.