As a lifetime St. Louis Cardinals fan, I never in my wildest dreams thought I would ever root for, or even hope for, the “Loveable Losers” to win a World Series. Like his father raised him, my father raised me to be a Cardinals fan, and I raised my son to be a Redbird fan, even though we lived in the Chicago suburbs most of his young life. Same with the girls, even though one of them still lives in the Chicago area and is married to a damn Yankee fan.
But then I met William Blaine “Bill” Madden in 2005 at a reunion of Iwo Jima veterans in New Orleans. Serving with Easy Company, Second Battalion, 27th Marine Regiment, Bill celebrated his 19th birthday on Feb. 18, 1945—the day before the Marines landed on the island—and was wounded in early March.
Transferred from Iwo Jima to the hospital on Guam, then to California and on to Great Lakes Naval Hospital to be near his northern Indiana home, the young veteran and Chicago Cubs fan was there during the 1945 World Series between the Cubs and the Detroit Tigers.
That was in the days just before the Billy Goat Curse came down on the heads of the Chicago Cubs after somebody wouldn’t allow avid Cubs fan, Greek immigrant and Billy Goat Tavern owner William “Billy Goat” Sianis to bring his pet goat, Murphy, along with him to Wrigley Field for the fourth game of the series. As he and the goat were being denied entrance, Sianis reportedly raised his hands in the air and put the curse on, saying, “The Cubs ain’t gonna win no more.”
Bill didn’t know about the curse at the time, but he told me the story for my novella, Iwo Blasted Again, for which he was the primary source and his poem of that name became the title. The Tigers won the fourth game 4-1 and the fifth game 8-4. The Cubs bounced back to win the sixth game 8-7 to tie the series at three games apiece to set the stage for the seventh and deciding game of the ’45 World Series, much like the Cubs-Indians 2016 series.
In ’45 the Cubs offered a number of tickets to the wounded veterans in the hospital at Great Lakes. But Bill and many of the wounded men didn’t get to use them. Hospital officials announced that anyone taking advantage of the Cubs’ patriotic generosity would first have to go on working parties to scrub and mop floors to “earn” the tickets.
“I lived 90 miles from Chicago,” Bill told me, “and at 19 I figured I’d have a lot of chances to see the Cubs in a World Series.”
By the time he was in his late ‘80s, he’d about given up and said he was going to quit watching or paying attention because they were never going to win.
Then things started changing for the Cubs. Last year a group called the Coalition to Salute America’s Heroes, which provides financial assistance to wounded combat veterans, offered him the opportunity to attend a playoff game, and he thought maybe he would finally make it to the series. Still didn’t happen—until this year.
On Oct. 24, I received the following email from Bill:
“Hooray, I’ve just been given a ticket to the first Cubs home game of the World Series! Dave Walker and I will be seated in Section 208, row 9, seats 9 and 10. Look for us. Dave Walker heads the veterans' group, Coalition to Salute to America’s Heroes. I’m not a hero, but I’ll pretend to be in this case since I’ve waited since 1945 for this to happen but never thought it would. Go Cubs!”
Sadly, when Walker came to take Bill to the game, he became ill with a blocked colon and went to the hospital. Surgery was scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 1. But with a weak heart and failing kidneys, the prospects were bleak.
On Wednesday, I received a message from Bill’s son, Jim: “Dad passed away last night with his four children holding his hand. He was in the prep room waiting for surgery but didn’t make it. I was able to read the Cubs newspaper articles to him about the last win (Game 5), which made him happy, but we regret he didn't get to see another win. His was a life well lived.”
Indeed Bill’s life was well lived. He taught high school English for 34 years and had also taught classes at Purdue and Indiana universities. He was a great father, a poet, a teacher who could still recite verbatim some 20 poems and a good Marine. At 90 years old, he was still a great Cubs fan. I’d hoped he could hang in there for a World Series winner.
“That was the last thing on my bucket list,” he told me when the playoffs began and I told him I thought this was the year. “I hope so, but I’ve endured a lifetime of disappointment. This time I will wait and see.”
If only he’d have been able to wait just a couple more days.