Service on and off the field

Gates_90.jpgBy Jim Gates

Can you name the only Major League player whose record includes combat service in both World War II and the Korean War?

The answer is Gerald Francis “Jerry” Coleman of the New York Yankees. Coleman joined the United States Marine Corps in October of 1942, after spending just one season as a Minor Leaguer with the Wellsville Yankees of the Pennsylvania-Ontario-New York League. Originally assigned to the V-12 Program in San Franciso, he soon received flight training and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1944. Coleman was quickly shipped out to the Pacific theater, where he flew 57 combat missions over Guadalcanal, the Solomon Islands and the Phillipines. He specialized in flying close air-support missions for his brother Marines involved in ground combat operations.

4-30-09-Gates_Coleman.jpgIn 1946, he resumed his baseball career and, after another stint in the Minors, was brought up to play the infield for the Yankees in 1949. However, like several others, he was recalled to duty with the outbreak of hostilities in Korea. He flew an additional 63 combat missions during this conflict, focusing on close air support, interdiction and strike missions. Coleman transferred back to the United States in 1953 and resumed his baseball career. He retired as a player after the 1957 season and went on to become a successful Major League broadcaster, winning the Hall of Fame’s Ford C. Frick Award in 2005.

Coleman remained active in the Marine Corps Reserve until his retirement in 1964 with the rank of lieutenant colonel. It should be noted that during his 120 combat missions, he earned two Distinguished Flying Crosses, 13 Air Medals and three Navy Citations.

Jerry Coleman is more than just a ballplayer. He is a true American hero.

Jim Gates is librarian of the National Baseball Hall of Fame Library.

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