The Life Story of George S. Dunn:
Aspiring Pitcher for the San Francisco Seals
A truncated version of this article appeared in (Hi)Stories of Our Neighborhoods in the Glen Park News, Spring 2019.
In the post revealing a possible answer to the mystery surrounding the name of Mizpah Street, a rediscovery of the life story of a former resident was made, a young man who died in the initial moments of the attack at Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941. It’s time for his story to be retold as another one of the significant legacies of our district.
George Sylvester Dunn, Jr was born in San Francisco on July 1, 1917. His father, George S. Dunn, a native of Canada, was occupied as a streetcar motorman; his mother, Louise (née Perkins), was a native of Arizona. The Dunn Family, including George Jr and his siblings – William, Anna, and Edwin – were first listed as residents of Mizpah Street in 1924, perhaps drawn to the prospects of having a significant amount of green space only one block away - Glen Canyon Park.
The acreage comprising Glen Park Playground (today’s Glen Canyon Park Recreation Area) was purchased from the Crocker Estate for use as a pubic park by the City and County of San Francisco following payment of annual installments of $10,000 from 1919 to 1921. With improvements completed in 1922, the playground opened to the public. The purchase had finally been accomplished after more than 10 years of ongoing community activism to wrest the privately-held resort from the Crocker Estate. Efforts had primarily been spearheaded by the Glen Park Improvement Association and, from 1908 through 1917, the women’s Glen Park Outdoor Art League. Of note, Mizpah Street resident Carrie Bauer, the last president of the Glen Park Outdoor Art League, is said by her descendants to have been such a forceful advocate for the Crocker Estate transfer that upon her death in 1932, her funeral cortège circled the Glen Park Playground before departing for Olivet Memorial Park in Colma.
The vastness of Glen Canyon and the surrounding, yet-to-be-developed hilltops must have been a marvel to young George and his siblings. His mother, Louise, was active for many years in the Glen Park School Parent Teacher Association and held various offices. As the PTA’s Recreation Officer in charge of games and races, she likely encouraged her children to participate in athletic activities, with no better place than Glen Canyon to do so.
George, a graduate of Balboa High School in 1935, played basketball and was a pitcher for the Balboa baseball team. Concurrently, he was also a member of the Eighth District American Legion Junior League champions, playing at first base and wearing the uniform of the Mission Reds. After graduation, he continued to play baseball, initially for the Royce Sports Shop. According to an article in the San Francisco Examiner on December 7, 1936, “This boy wins most of his games and does what most chuckers are not expected to do, pummel that horsehide.” Dunn also played softball in the San Francisco Examiner Softball League in 1937, pitching for the Onized Club in the Championship Class versus Philco Radio. In this same year, Dunn started playing semi-professional baseball. Most notably, he was selected for the San Francisco Seals AA team, with Coach Bill Swanton remarking, “On this same team is George Dunn, who was pressed into service as a pitcher in a recent game with the bases loaded and struck out the side. This Dunn boy has pitched winning ball this past winter.”
Dunn was fortunate to be at Seals’ training camp in Hanford, California when a young Joe DiMaggio, also a Seals veteran, showed up in March 1938 to “get in shape" as he waited to be called up for his second year with the New York Yankees. In April, pitcher Dunn, identified in the media as one of the “Seals Kids,” was farmed to Harry Krause’s Tucson Club in Arizona. By 1939, he tried out as a Seals regular pitcher in front of the iconic manager Frank “Lefty” O’Doul and two Yankee scouts. He, along with other hopeful pitchers, attended camp at Boyes Hot Springs under the watchful eyes of former Seals middle infielder Hal Rhyne and third baseman Eddie Mulligan.
In 1940, James J. Nealon, President of the Northern California Baseball Managers Association wrote in the San Francisco Examiner, "The people of the Glen Park District have noticed that baseball has been dormant in that locality for the past year and, at the present, the caliber is not what the fans in that fast-growing district have known. To revive the interest, the Glen Park Athletic Club directors have engaged Coach George Dunn ... to organize a representative as well as a winning team." Nealon went on to say that Dunn had just returned from spring training with the Seals and had led the Fred W. Meyer team to victory in the 1938 Class B championship. The Glen Park Athletic Club was expected to take on the “big name clubs” around the city, and added that Glen Park could "boast a playing field that is a credit to that community as well as a club house [today’s Glen Park Recreation Center, completed in 1938] whose appointments meet with every requirement."
Yet just a few months later on November 18, 1940, Dunn would put his burgeoning baseball career on hold when he enlisted in the US Navy. Perhaps his call to duty and country had been spurred by news the previous day that four Nazi ships had been sighted off the Mexican coast, maybe thinking it was a bit too close to home. After training as a radioman and becoming Seaman Second Class, he shipped to Pearl Harbor where he was assigned to the battleship USS West Virginia.
We don’t know the exact whereabouts of Dunn aboard ship on that beautiful Hawaiian Sunday morning on December 7, 1941. When the Japanese air assault began just before 8:00 am, he was likely still below deck where the sailors’ berths and galley was located. The first bomb to hit the USS West Virginia caused the superstructure to collapse into the galley area. The ship suffered direct hits by 7 aircraft torpedoes and 2 bombs, with additional damage from the explosions on the USS Tennessee and USS Arizona moored nearby.
Over 2,000 service members died that day. Among the 202 sailors and 2 officers who died on the USS West Virginia, Seaman 2c George S. Dunn, Jr of Glen Park’s Mizpah Street would become one of the first American service members to give their life for their country in World War II. He was initially declared missing in action and was presumed dead for the next 6 months after the attack, until the USS West Virginia was raised for salvage and his body was retrieved. Eventually, the USS West Virginia returned to service and saw battle in Leyte and Okinawa. She would be present to witness the Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay, anchored not far from the USS Missouri.
In February 1942, the Examiner reported, “San Franciscans are still mourning the passing of George Dunn, former Balboa High School boy, who lost his life as a member of the United States Navy at Pearl Harbor. Dunn was a good pitcher, well liked, and will be remembered as a gallant gentleman. The Northern California Baseball Manager’s Association has placed a beautiful plaque on the walls of its clubhouse in Seals Stadium in memory of Dunn.”
To add to the Gold Star family’s misery, George’s younger brother, U.S. Army Private First Class Edwin W. Dunn, 20 years old, was reported missing in action in Germany as of December 31, 1944. According to the San Francisco Examiner, “Eddie was well known in bush league baseball in this city, attended Balboa High School and San Francisco State College.” While the full story of his MIA status has not yet been discovered, Eddie was able to return home to San Francisco and appears to have lived a full life until his passing in 2004.
On October 10, 1947, 2,967 fallen service members passed under the Golden Gate Bridge aboard US Army Transport Honda Knot. Among them were the remains of George S. Dunn, Jr. Anchored within view, a memorial service was held at Marina Green and attended by 5,000 mourners. The aspiring baseball pitcher of Glen Park who had played with the San Francisco Seals was buried with military honors at Golden Gate National Cemetery in San Bruno on October 25, 1947.
At the conclusion of this research, an item popped up on eBay that was described as, "Glen Park School San Francisco Memory Autograph Album Book, 1928." The title page describes the book as having been owned by Lois McElroy, the daughter of Harry and Lolita McElroy of Mizpah Street (at the time, called Mizpah Avenue).
Serendipitously, this find brings to us a tangible connection to our story, for inscribed on one of the last pages of the Memory Book, dated May 15, 1931 is the signature of Lois' Mizpah Street neighbor, 14-year-old George Dunn.