By Art Holliday
ST. LOUIS (KSDK) - There's more than a century of St. Louis Cardinals history and one story involves a well-known World War II air squadron.
"You always get hit from a plane you don't see," said 93-year-old Ed Harper.
He knows all too well what it's like to fly a warplane targeted by the enemy. The two-time Purple Heart recipient flew 78 missions during World War II as a member of the highly decorated Black Sheep Squadron of Flying Aces. The U.S. Marine Fighter pilots inspired a 1970s television show, "Baa, Baa, Black Sheep" starring Robert Conrad.
Harper said fighter squadrons routinely took photos of their pilots, often with a plane prominently featured.
"Most squadrons when they go off to war they take a picture of the pilots. You see them all the time," he said.
Somehow, photographs showing members of the Black Sheep Squadron wearing St. Louis Cardinals baseball caps and holding baseball bats became iconic. The story goes that Pappy Boyington, the Black Sheep Squadron commander, sent word to Major League Baseball the squadron would shoot down one enemy plane for each new cap sent to them. The St. Louis Cardinals sent 20 caps and more, according to Harper.
"They did better than send the hats," said Harper. "They sent some baseballs and a bunch of bats."
The caps and bats are prominent in the photographs. The Black sheep Squadron more than kept its promise, downing 48 enemy planes.
Harper says his Cardinal cap disappeared a couple of weeks after he got it. He left it in his plane's cockpit.
"When I got back I didn't have a hat and I never knew who took it," he said.
After 28 years in the Marines, Ed Harper went onto a 17 year career at McDonnell Douglas, including general manager for the Harrier II development program.