Hall of Fame Military Spotlight Series: Jerry Coleman
Gerald Coleman, known to all as Jerry, was not only a strong hitting infielder for the New York Yankees, but also a United States Marine Corps aviator who flew combat missions in WWII and the Korean War. In 2015, the Bob Feller Act of Valor Award Foundation established the Jerry Coleman Award, intended to recognize a Marine Corps Staff Noncommissioned Officer who possesses outstanding leadership and unyielding support for the United States Marine Corps and the United States of America. The recipient of this award is honored every year in November at the Navy Memorial in Washington DC.
Coleman was recruited by the Yankees in 1942 at the age of 17 and was Rookie of the Year in the Class D Pony League. He postponed his baseball career to serve his nation at the age of 18 as an aviation cadet.
After enlisting, he joined a V-5 program at Navy Pre-Flight School where he earned his pilot wings in April 1944 before being transferred to the Marine Corps. Coleman served as a dive bomber pilot in the Pacific flying the two-seat Douglas SBD Dauntless with the VMSB-341, a Marine Scout Bombing Squadron, known as the Torrid Turtles. He was stationed in the Solomons and the Philippines.
After completing 57 combat missions, he said of the Dauntless aircraft that “it was a magnificent dive bomber, with great control and resulting accuracy.” For his service in World War II, he received two Distinguished Flying Crosses and seven Air Medals. He was discharged in July 1945.
First Lieutenant Coleman returned from the war and learned to fly the dive bomber, Curtis SB2C Helldiver, which was replacing the Dauntless dive bomber. He then returned to his professional baseball career and was called up to the Major Leagues with the Yankees in 1949 and received The Sporting News American League Rookie of the Year award. He was an All-Star and the World Series MVP in 1950.
Coleman returned to the military during the Korean War, missing two seasons of baseball. He told the New York Times that he felt the recall was fair because, “For an experienced flier, it takes only about two months to get back in the harness. Starting with a youngster who has never flown before, it would take about two years before he would be ready for combat duty.” Earning the rank of Captain, he flew 63 close air support missions from January to May 1953 with Marine Attack Squadron 323 (VMA-321), known as the Death Rattlers, piloting a Vought AU-1 Corsair fighter. He was awarded six additional Air Medals. For his combined service in WWII and Korea, he received an astounding two Distinguished Flying Crosses, thirteen Air Medals and three Navy citations. Jerry remained in the Marine Corps Reserves until his retirement as a Lieutenant Colonel in 1964.
He returned to the Yankees in 1954 and was with them until 1957. After his professional playing career ended, he served in the Yankees front office before becoming a broadcaster for the CBS Radio Network. He became the San Diego Padres lead radio announcer in 1972 but left the booth to manage the Padres in 1980. He then returned to the booth and announced for the Padres until his death in 2014. He was honored in 2005 by the National Baseball Hall of Fame with the Ford C. Frick Award for his broadcasting contributions. He was also inducted into the San Diego Padres Hall of Fame and the National Radio Hall of Fame. In 2011, he received the Lone Sailor Award and was inducted into the International Aerospace Hall of Fame in a ceremony at the San Diego Air & Space Museum for his service as a combat pilot.
Coleman had a long career in baseball, but he said, “To me the height of my life, the best thing I ever knew wasn’t the Yankees, wasn’t baseball or broadcasting, it was the Marine Corps.” Coleman was a successful baseball player but valued his service in the military. He is being proudly recognized by the Bob Feller Act of Valor Award Foundation for his exemplary service, patriotism and bravery demonstrated during WWII and the Korean War.