Jerry Coleman was one of the best fielding second basemen in major league history. He was a part of the legendary Yankees dynasty of the late 40s and 1950s. He was a major league manager, and a Hall of Fame broadcaster. But he was also something more, much more. The “Colonel” (he retired from the Marine Corps Reserve in 1964 as a Lieutenant Colonel) was a combat pilot in World War II and again in Korea.
Completing the V-5 Program, Coleman flew SBD-3 Dauntless dive bombers with VMSB-341 from the Solomons in 1944 and then in the Philippines until July of 1945. He flew 57 missions in all. After the war he resumed his baseball career, and made the Yankees roster in 1948. Called up again for Korea, Coleman transitioned to F4U-4 Corsairs, and flew 63 missions of ground support with the famous “Death Rattlers” of VMF-323. He also served as a forward air controller before returning stateside in 1953.
Coleman retired as a player with the Yankees in 1957. He is the only major leaguer to see combat in two wars, flying a total of 120 missions between World War II and Korea. He was always known as an intelligent, kind, and thoughtful gentleman, a figure truly beloved in New York and his native San Diego. Not something you find very often in the profession of sport.
Jerry Coleman was awarded two Distinguished Flying Crosses, and thirteen Air Medals for his wartime service. Lieutenant Colonel Jerry Coleman, USMCR (Ret.) was a true hero. Semper Fidelis, Colonel. Baseball, and our country, is poorer for your loss.
From Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig:
Jerry Coleman was a hero and a role model to myself and countless others in the game of Baseball. He had a memorable, multifaceted career in the National Pastime – as an All-Star during the great Yankees’ dynasty from 1949-1953, a manager and, for more than a half-century, a beloved broadcaster, including as an exemplary ambassador for the San Diego Padres. But above all, Jerry’s decorated service to our country in both World War II and Korea made him an integral part of the Greatest Generation. He was a true friend whose counsel I valued greatly.
Major League Baseball began its support of Welcome Back Veterans to honor the vibrant legacy of heroes like Jerry Coleman. Our entire sport mourns the loss of this fine gentleman, and I extend my deepest condolences to his family, friends, fans of the Padres and the Yankees, and his many admirers in Baseball and beyond.