“Although the war ended with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in France on June 28, 1919, combat had come to a close seven months earlier on Nov. 11, 1918,” she said. “In November 1919, President Wilson named Nov. 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day.”
Each year on Armistice Day — later to become Veterans Day in the United States — Americans express their gratitude for the heroism of all those who have served in the armed forces and pay homage to those who have died in service for their country.
In light of the longstanding tradition of national pride and gratitude for those who have served, The Bishop’s School honored special guest Jerry Coleman — a patriot, pilot and living baseball and broadcast legend.
If there is one thing the former Yankees’ second baseman and voice of the San Diego Padres loves more than baseball, it is his country. Not only has Coleman been a shining star when it comes to America’s favorite pastime — both on and off the field — he is also a devoted patriot who put a thriving career in his favorite sport on hold not once, but twice, in order to nobly serve the country that is so dear to his heart.
“There are two things that are important to me — the people that I love and who love me, and my country,” he said. “April 1, 1944 was the greatest day of my life. I was commissioned a second lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps. I got my Navy wings of gold.”
Despite playing for nine years as the New York Yankees’ second baseman, winning eight division titles, playing in six World Series games, winning Associated Press’ Rookie of the Year award in 1949 and earning the honor of the World Series MVP in 1950, Coleman insists the day he got his wings tops it all.
“I’ve been to all kinds of big championship games, but nothing is more important to me than that,” he said.
Although he earned a coveted baseball scholarship to the University of Southern California right after high school, Coleman decided to postpone his education and baseball career, playing one summer in the minor leagues and enlisting in the United States Marine Corps on his 18th birthday instead.
“I have plenty of stories about why I entered the service,” he said. “World War II started and Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. I was 17 years old, and the high school gathered all the senior men into the auditorium … and all of a sudden, from the back of the room came two Naval aviators with wings.”
From that day forward, he made a commitment to serve in the United States Marine Corps. He flew in 57 combat missions in World War II, earning two distinguished Flying Crosses and seven air medals during his first call to duty. When he returned to New York, he resumed his baseball career, advancing to a starting position as the Yankees’ second baseman in 1949 until he was called again to active duty in 1952 where he flew 63 more combat missions during the Korean War. Again, Coleman’s skill shined and he earned six more air medals, the Korean Service Medal with two stars, and the United Nations Service Medal before he returned to the baseball diamond in New York once again. He remained on Marine Corps Reserves, ready to serve as needed, until his retirement as a lieutenant colonel in 1964.
Now, the 88-year-old play-by-play radio announcer continues to broadcast for the San Diego Padres. Despite earning distinction for his right arm and signature phrases, it was his service in the military that was the highlight of his career, he said.
“I hope that someday a few young men out there decide to go into the service. Pick a branch you want to be in and you’ll never forget it,” he said to the students at Bishop’s.
Passion and knowledge — not a throwing arm or brazen glory — are the secrets to life’s success after high school, he said.
“In this school, you’ll get a better brain than anyplace else in the United States,” he said. “Remember, when you go into the world, the thing that will carry you further than anything else that you ever do is the knowledge in your brain.”
VETERANS DAY IN LA JOLLA
At the annual Veterans Day celebration atop Mount Soledad on Nov. 10, visitors will gather to honor the memory of those who have served the United States military. Among those remembered will be Col. Rick Rescorla, who worked as the head of security for Morgan Stanley Dean Witter in the World Trade Center during 9/11.
Rescorla, who served in the Army from 1963 to 1968, has been hailed as a hero who insisted his staff and colleagues be prepared for anything, often running security drills in the Twin Towers. Rescorla helped many people escape from the World Trade Center, then went back into the building to find other survivors. He was killed when the South Tower collapsed.
Rescorla will be honored by friend Daniel Hill and Mark Kremers, executive director and complex manager of Morgan Stanley in La Jolla. The program will be emceed by radio personality Mark Larson and the keynote speaker will be Rear Adm. Len Hering.
The program will begin at noon and will include a T-34 fly-over, supplied by the Warbirds West Air Museum at Gillespie Field in El Cajon. For more information, call the Mt. Soledad Memorial Association office at (858) 459-2314.