Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Let's Talk Sports...

(L to R) Jerry Coleman, Joe Foss, and Ted Williams
Okay Sarge, we're confused (sayeth some of the followers of the blog), the title of the post is Let's Talk Sports..., then you have pictures of three aviators. So is this post about flyers, or is it about sports? 



Well,  the lead in photo is indeed of three flyers, to be more precise, three Marine aviators. In the interests of full disclosure, I knew who two of them were before I started writing this post. Captain Joe Foss of Guadalcanal fame, hey, I read a lot. Ted Williams I knew because, hey, I grew up in New England.

I was sorely disappointed that I didn't know who Jerry Coleman was, not because I am a huge baseball fan, but because my father was a big Yankee fan. Yes, Jerry Coleman had a storied career with the Bronx Bombers, the New York Yankees, the chief rivals of New England's very own Boston Red Sox, who Ted Williams played for, of course.

So, we've established that two of the pictured Marine aviators played baseball. So what connection did Joe Foss have with sports? Glad you asked. (It's something that I did not know. To quote Buck, "I had no ideer.")

Joe Foss was the very first commissioner of the American Football League, the old AFL (said league New England's own Patriots were a charter member of). He was instrumental in helping the AFL grow to the point where they could compete with the rival NFL. (Yes, boys and girls, we used to have two, viable, professional football leagues in this country.)

Again, I had no ideer that Joe Foss was the first commissioner of the AFL. I did know that he was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions on Guadalcanal. I also did not know that after leaving the Marine Corps (as a major) he was appointed to the rank of lieutenant colonel in the South Dakota Air National Guard. His first job? Form the South Dakota Air National Guard!

Later he served as the governor of South Dakota. So there's a whole lot I didn't know about Brigadier General Joe Foss (for that was the rank he held upon his retirement from the South Dakota ANG). From Marine fighter ace to Air Force Brigadier General. Pretty impressive I thought. (By the way, here's a great site about the Marine pilots in the Solomons.)

So what sparked this particular post?

An email from one of you, the loyal readers. John as a matter of fact. Yes, John is a pretty common name, but he knows who he is. (Well, I do too, but I digress...)

John made a pitch for inclusion of these three men up there at the top of the blog, the Wall of Honor (as he called it, I like the name, think it might stick actually...)

Now the Wall of Honor could be expanded to cover thousands of deserving men and women. For the most part I've used it for my own particular military heroes, most of whom are aircrew, most of whom are officers. A few I knew personally (and whose loss I still and shall forever mourn) and four of whom are Air Force enlisted guys.

But not all of those men were picked by me, not a few were suggested by the readers. So, after thinking on it, I do believe that Messrs. Foss, Coleman, and Williams really should be up there. Currently the Marine Corps is represented only by Major Taj Sareen (I met him, he was a friend of Big Time and The WSO) so, in essence, one could say that the Corps is underrepresented. And I do respect the Marines, a lot!
So, these fellows are going to be added, not immediately, but soon. I just need to rearrange the real estate and come up with something aesthetically pleasing (and not too cluttered, I remember your advice Pogue, really, I do).

Joe Foss downs a Zero over Guadalcanal. (Source)

Alright, so I've mentioned Brigadier General Foss' background, what about Jerry Coleman and Ted Williams? What's their claim to fame, other than having been major league ballplayers? (And Marine aviators at some point in their lives...)

Both men left (or postponed) promising baseball careers to serve their country in wartime. Not once, but twice. World War II and Korea.

Here are a couple of extracts from Lieutenant Colonel Coleman's Wikipedia entry:
Gerald Francis "Jerry" Coleman (September 14, 1924 – January 5, 2014) was a Major League Baseball (MLB) second baseman for the New York Yankees and manager of the San Diego Padres for one year. Coleman was named the rookie of the year in 1949 by Associated Press, and was an All-Star in 1950 and later that year was named the World Series most valuable player. Yankees teams on which he was a player appeared in six World Series during his career, winning four times. Coleman served as a Marine Corps pilot in WW II and the Korean War, flying combat missions with the VMSB-341 Torrid Turtles (WWII) and VMA-323 Death Rattlers (Korea) in both wars. He later became a broadcaster, and he was honored in 2005 by the National Baseball Hall of Fame with the Ford C. Frick Award for his broadcasting contributions.

Nicknamed "The Colonel", because he had been promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel, Coleman was a Marine aviator who postponed his entry into professional baseball in World War II and later left baseball to serve in the Korean War. While a Marine Corps aviator he flew 120 combat missions (57 during WWII and 63 in Korea). and received numerous honors and medals including two Distinguished Flying Crosses. In recent years Coleman received numerous honors; including, being inducted into the USMC Sports Hall of Fame, for his call to duty. Coleman was the only Major League Baseball player to have seen combat in two wars. (While Ted Williams served during both WWII and Korea, he flew combat missions only in the Korean war.)
And here are a few extracts from Captain Ted William's Wikipedia entry:
Williams served as a Naval Aviator during World War II and the Korean War. Unlike many other major league players, he did not spend all of his war-time playing on service teams. Williams had been classified 3-A by Selective Service prior to the war, a dependency deferment because he was his mother's sole means of financial support. When his classification was changed to 1-A following the American entry into World War II, Williams appealed to his local draft board. The draft board ruled that his draft status should not have been changed. He made a public statement that once he had built up his mother's trust fund, he intended to enlist. Even so, criticism in the media, including withdrawal of an endorsement contract by Quaker Oats, resulted in his enlistment in the U.S. Navy Reserve on May 22, 1942.

Williams did not opt for an easy assignment playing baseball for the Navy, but rather joined the V-5 program to become a Naval aviator. Williams was first sent to the Navy's Preliminary Ground School at Amherst College for six months of academic instruction in various subjects including math and navigation, where he achieved a 3.85 grade point average.

Williams was talented as a pilot, and so enjoyed it that he had to be ordered by the Navy to leave training to personally accept his American League 1942 Major League Baseball Triple Crown. Williams' Red Sox teammate, Johnny Pesky, who went into the same aviation training program, said this about Williams: "He mastered intricate problems in fifteen minutes which took the average cadet an hour, and half of the other cadets there were college grads." Pesky again described Williams' acumen in the advance training, for which Pesky personally did not qualify: "I heard Ted literally tore the sleeve target to shreds with his angle dives. He'd shoot from wingovers, zooms, and barrel rolls, and after a few passes the sleeve was ribbons. At any rate, I know he broke the all-time record for hits." Ted went to Jacksonville for a course in aerial gunnery, the combat pilot's payoff test, and broke all the records in reflexes, coordination, and visual-reaction time. "From what I heard. Ted could make a plane and its six 'pianos' (machine guns) play like a symphony orchestra", Pesky* says. "From what they said, his reflexes, coordination, and visual reaction made him a built-in part of the machine."

On May 1, 1952, 14 months after his promotion to Captain in the Marine Corps Reserve, Williams was recalled to active duty for service in the Korean War. He had not flown any aircraft for about eight years but he turned down all offers to sit out the war in comfort as a member of a service baseball team. Nevertheless, Williams was somewhat resentful of being called up, which he admitted years later, particularly regarding the Navy's policy of calling up Inactive Reservists rather than members of the Active Reserve.

After eight weeks of refresher flight training and qualification in the F9F Panther jet fighter at the Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina, Williams was assigned to VMF-311, Marine Aircraft Group 33 (MAG-33), based at the K-3 airfield in Pohang, South Korea.

On February 16, 1953, Williams was part of a 35-plane air raid against a tank and infantry training school just south of Pyongyang, North Korea. During the mission, a piece of flak knocked out his hydraulics and electrical systems, causing Williams to have to "limp" his plane back to K-13, a U.S. Air Force airfield close to the front lines. For his actions of this day, he was awarded the Air Medal.

Williams stayed on K-13 for several days while his plane was being repaired. Because he was so popular, GIs and airmen from all around the base came to see him and his plane. After it was repaired, Williams flew his plane back to his Marine Corps airfield.

Williams flew 39 combat missions in Korea, earning the Air Medal with two Gold Stars in lieu of second and third awards, before being withdrawn from flight status in June 1953 after a hospitalization for pneumonia. This resulted in the discovery of an inner ear infection that disqualified him from flight status. During the Korean War, Williams also served in the same Marine Corps unit with John Glenn; the future astronaut described Williams as one of the best pilots he knew. In the last half of his missions, Williams was flying as Glenn's wingman.
Yeah, I'd say these men are deserving. So John, expect to see those faces up there sometime in the next week or so.

The readers speak, I listen. (Well, most of the time...)

Source - Check out the great All Veteran Baseball All Star team at that link!

Source - There are a number of photos from Ted's military career at that link.

Joe Foss' Awards and Decorations and the paint scheme of his Wildcat on Guadalcanal.(Sources: Ribbons and Aircraft)

The President of the United States takes pleasure in presenting the CONGRESSIONAL MEDAL OF HONOR to

for service as set forth in the following CITATION:

For outstanding heroism and courage above and beyond the call of duty as Executive Officer of a Marine Fighting Squadron, at Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands. Engaging in almost daily combat with the enemy from October 9 to November 19, 1942, Captain Foss personally shot down 23 Japanese aircraft and damaged others so severely that their destruction was extremely probable. In addition, during this period, he successfully led a large number of escort missions, skillfully covering reconnaissance, bombing and photographic planes as well as surface craft. On January 15, 1943, he added three more enemy aircraft to his already brilliant successes for a record of aerial combat achievement unsurpassed in this war. Boldly searching out an approaching enemy force on January 25, Captain Foss led his eight F4F Marine planes and four Army P-38s into action and, undaunted by tremendously superior numbers, intercepted and struck with such force that four Japanese fighters were shot down and the bombers were turned back without releasing a single bomb. His remarkable flying skill, inspiring leadership and indomitable fighting spirit were distinctive factors in the defense of strategic American positions on Guadalcanal.

/S/ Franklin D. Roosevelt
Update: 'Tis Done!

* For the uninitiated, the right field foul pole in Fenway Park is known as "Pesky's Pole."


  1. My father was acquainted with, then Colonel Joe Foss at HQ, Central Air Defense in Kansas City in 1951. Both had been called back to Active Duty for Korea, Foss being from the ND Air Guard and working in the A3 of the HQ. Dad was a Staff Sgt in the Supply and Maintenance section.

  2. Worthy additions to the Chant's Pantheon.

    Knew about Foss, didn't about the other two.

    BTW Happy 180th Anniversary of Texas Declaration of Independence.

    1. Ah yes, I saw that over at Angel's place (the Texas Declaration of Independence thingee). Were you folks thinking of doing that again? And can I come visit after you do?


    2. Well, there's another anniversary coming on the 6th and then another on the 27th and then finally one on April 21st before I feel comfortable saying Happy Texas Independence Day. It's one thing to say you are independent, but there's some things that have to happen before you can actually BE Independent. Most of them are not pleasant.

      As for doing it again, a lot is riding on what happens on the second Tuesday in November. Much as I don't want it to happen again, I'm worried that it is becoming increasingly likely. That Document that begins "We the People..." is a contract. Basically, if you follow these rules, we will allow you to govern us. If you don't follow these rules, all bets are off.

    3. @Juvat - Well, we celebrate the Fourth of July to commemorate the signing of the Declaration of Independence, not the actual recognition of our independence by the Crown.

      I do like that you capitalized "Document," seems fitting.

    4. @HMS Defiant - Aye Cap'n, many are beginning to think along those lines.

  3. Jerry Coleman was pretty much sports royalty here in San Diego- partially because he was successful Yankee, but his USMC Aviator time and his many many years of service as the San Diego Padres announcer (and a year stint as manager). You can hang a star on that one baby!

    1. Thanks for sharing that video Tuna, pretty sweet!

  4. Ex wife has relatives in Pierre (ya, sure) who told me this story. Seems then Governor Foss liked to fish off the bridge to South Pierre. One day there was a big fire and Gov. Foss started gathering up his gear. "Going to the fire, Governor" asked one of the fishermen? "No", he replied. "I"m getting off this bridge. I've seen the South Pierre Volunteer Fire Department in action."

    Proof that he was brave but not foolish.

  5. Super post Sarge. I remember reading about Williams as a lad, then confidently informing Dad that he (Williams) was the greatest baseball player of all time. At which point Dad, a big Yankees fan, gave me the gouge on Coleman. Also remember reading about Foss's WWII exploits and being excited as hell to see him on Wide World of Sports and The American Sportsman. Those three are very worthy additions to your Wall of Honor, IMO.

    Thanks again for a great post!

    1. My Dad was a huge Yankees fan (Mom was and still is a huge Red Sox fan) and he couldn't abide Ted Williams or any other person who wore the Red Sox uniform. He did mellow in his old age though, admitting that perhaps Ted could hit a baseball pretty well.

      "Damn shame he didn't play for the Yankees though."

      Thanks Shaun.


Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)