Rediscovering the legacy of Gloucester’s Babe Ruth | News

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GLOUCESTER — Marine Corps 1st Lt. Sherman B. Ruth Jr. was nicknamed “Babe Ruth” when he played baseball at Gloucester High School.

His yearbook ambition read he wanted to play professional baseball, but he never got the chance.

He was 23 when he died on May 17, 1945, after being wounded on Okinawa toward the end of World War II.

To this day, the National Honor Society chapter at Gloucester High is named in his memory.

For his bravery, Ruth was awarded the Silver Star during the war, and was posthumously presented with a Gold Star in lieu of a second Silver Star.

Recently, Gloucester resident Wayne Soini, a labor lawyer and the author of “Gloucester’s Sea Serpent,” became interested in Ruth’s legacy.

Soini had been a member of the Sherman B. Ruth National Honor Society at Gloucester High, from which he graduated in 1966. Back then, he wondered who Ruth was, but was unable to get an answer.

“Years later, retired, I said, ‘I’m going to finally look up and find out more who Sherman B. Ruth was,’” Soini said.

On the 79th anniversary of Ruth’s death, in the runup to Memorial Day, Soini gave a presentation of Ruth’s life and legacy during a Friday Veterans Coffee Social at Cape Ann Veterans Services on Emerson Avenue.

“Sherm’s heroic legacy and memory was relived today on the 79th anniversary of his death reminding us all of the service and sacrifices of our military men and women,” Cape Ann Veterans Services posted on Facebook.

Soini was presented with a citation from Mayor Greg Verga honoring Ruth for his bravery, which was to be presented to his only grandchild, Michelle Sanfilippo, who aided Soini in his research. (A copy of Soini’s presentation can be found at Cape Ann Veterans Services).

“Wayne did a wonderful job honoring my grandfather,” Sanfilippo said in an email. “I was able to provide him with old letters from the war, personal photos of my grandfather, his Purple Heart and Silver medals and other documents from his time at war.”

Ruth’s only son, Sanfilippo’s father, was also named Sherman B. Ruth. He was only 14 months old when the young Gloucester lieutenant was killed in World War II.

“Even though he never knew him,” Sanfilippo said, “he was always told what a wonderful, smart and honorable man he was. If my dad were alive today he would be very proud of the way that Wayne honored his father and brought his story to life.”

“I was happy to help Wayne and I was glad I had all of these photos, documents and medals to help him with this story,” she said. “I am also very happy that I have all of these items to pass down to my daughter and son, his great grandchildren.”

Sherman Barrington Ruth was born in Gloucester in 1921, and graduated Gloucester High School with the Class of 1939. He served as class vice president, class valedictorian, president of the National Honor Society, and the commander of the elite drill team for ROTC, Soini said. He was also captain of the baseball team and he ran the Gloucester Fishermen’s For Roosevelt Club in high school.

“He was kind of everything,” Soini said in an interview Thursday at 1623 Studios, which is producing a segment on Ruth. “All of those things made him outstanding.”

Despite his accomplishments, Ruth’s family was no stranger to tragedy. His father died in a boat explosion in 1938. His mother died from tuberculosis in 1940.

“So these things were going on in his life even when he was doing all these things in 1939,” Soini said. “In the context, he was remarkable. Grace under pressure.”

Ruth had a little sister who he nicknamed “Sis,” who was born in August 1929. When she was orphaned, Soini said, Ruth offered to go into foster care with her at age 18 to protect her.

Mary Virginia (Ruth) Norris, died in August 2015 at age 86 in Bonita Springs, Florida, according to her obituary in the Gloucester Daily Times.

“He was her hero and never forgotten in her heart,” her obituary read.

Soini said Ruth probably went to Boston University on an athletic scholarship for one year, where he played baseball. He later transferred to Bowdoin College in Maine and graduated at the end of 1942. The reason he was not drafted during college was because he had signed up for the Marine Corps Reserve.

At the end of 1942, he proposed to his girlfriend, whose first name was Ruth, on the condition that his sister, who was 12 at the time, was going to live with them. The couple were married Jan. 1, 1943. The three of them moved into a top-floor apartment on Prospect Street near St. Ann Church.

While in Marines officer training in Quantico, Virginia, Ruth was able to get leave to visit his new bride, knowing he was going to be serving in the Pacific. His wife became pregnant and they had a baby boy, named Sherman B. Ruth.

Soini showed a picture of Ruth with his baby son wrapped in a blanket in front of St. Ann’s.

After training in Guadalcanal in 1945, his unit was shipped out to Okinawa, which Soini said was the last line of defense before the Japanese homeland.

There was a bloody battle for the island from April to June 1945, during which Ruth was so heroic, he was awarded a Silver Star for bravery beyond the call in April 1945. He won another Silver Star on May 15 for his bravery, when he was wounded. He died two days later. Because the medal was awarded posthumously, it was called a Gold Star, Soini said.

While Ruth has been gone for nearly eight decades, it’s not as if he’s been out of sight to Gloucester residents.

The World War II Marine Memorial Painting hanging on the first floor lobby of City Hall on Dale Avenue not far from the front entrance contains a portrait of Ruth. It was dedicated Nov. 8, 1946. The Marine Corps League commissioned a Rockport artist to paint the portrait, Soini said.

This 1946 oil painting by Marguerite S. Pearson depicts Ruth and the other four Marines from Gloucester who died in the Pacific Theater during the war: Sgt. Ralph J. Greely, Capt. Wilfred H. Ringer, Pfc. John M. Sweet and Pfc. Robert P. Maguire.

“And if you look at the portrait,” Soini said, “he’s seated with medals he never had a chance to wear.”

Ethan Forman may be contacted at 978-675-2714, or at eforman@northofboston.com.

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