Don Kolloway, “The Blue Island Bird Dog” – Infielder
Note: his is player biography is part of our feature, The 29th Infantry Division’s Blues and Grays: the men behind one of the Army’s best World War II baseball teams by Drew Sullins, Colonel (Retired), U.S. Army
Don Kolloway, the Blues and Grays’ best player, was a combat medic, Bronze Star and Purple Heart recipient, who initially served in the 69th Infantry Division’s 271st Infantry Regiment. Kolloway did not enter combat until January 1945, however, his relatively short time facing hostile fire was eventful and something he would never forget.
On April 19, 1945, with Kolloway present, the 69th Division liberated a subcamp of the concentration camp Buchenwald called Leipzig-Thekla. It was a forced labor camp housing at its peak around 1,400 people. On the day before the Fighting 69th’s arrival about 400 prisoners were present in the camp, however, German SS guards executed more than 300 of them by locking them into a building and burning them alive while shooting dead those who somehow managed to escape the flames.
By the time Kolloway and his fellow soldiers arrived, it is estimated that there were 90 to 100 survivors of the camp clinging to life, which undoubtedly kept medic Kolloway busy treating them. Just as every G.I. who witnessed one of these camps, Kolloway was stunned and saddened by what he had seen. He kept as a memory a photo taken of him walking in the camp with several dead bodies next to him. On the back of the photo Kolloway wrote, “One of the Nazi prison camps. Evidence of the atrocities they committed.” Kolloway’s daughter, Karen Kolloway-Parker, said that her father, who happened to be of German ancestry, and a first-generation American citizen, was for the rest of his life incredibly disturbed by what he witnessed in his parents’ homeland.
Less than a month after the liberation of Leipzig-Thelka, and just after V-E Day, the Army made the decision to inactivate the 69th Infantry Division and redeploy it home to the United States. In June 1945, the Soldiers who did not have enough points to return to the U.S. with the division were transferred to other units. In these transfers, the 69th Division was very good to the 29th Infantry Division’s baseball team, as it picked up four professional baseball players, including Kolloway.
Before the war interrupted his baseball career, Don Kolloway was as the starting second baseman for the Chicago White Sox turning double plays with future Hall-of-Famer, shortstop Luke Appling. Kolloway’s nickname, “The Blue Island Bird Dog,” paid homage to his Illinois hometown and the fact that he was a superb at tracking down batted balls. He was a solid player for all 12 seasons he was in Major League Baseball. In addition to the White Sox (1940-43 and 1946-48), Kolloway also played for the Detroit Tigers (1949-52) and Philadelphia Athletics (1953).
Kolloway was 6’3” and had excellent speed. In an era where base stealing did not happen as often, he had 54 career stolen bases to include twice stealing home to win ball games. In fact, in a single game in 1941, Kolloway hit two home runs, stole second base, third base and had one of his home plate “thefts” demonstrating definitively that he belonged in the majors. Kolloway earned a solid career batting average of .271 and in 1942 he led the major leagues in doubles with 40. In 1949, he had his career best year at the plate hitting .292 and his on base plus slugging percentage (OPS) was .714. It was Kolloway’s hot bat that propelled the 29th Division Blues and Grays to the Seventh Army championship in 1945.
After the Army, and the end of his baseball career, Kolloway returned home to Blue Island where he owned and operated a tavern called Kolloway’s. He was a stalwart in the community; well-liked and respected. A search turned up several newspaper articles about events in Blue Island where Kolloway appeared as a guest speaker. And it was said that if you were a kid and asked him to come to your Boy Scout troop meeting or team sports banquet and give a talk the answer was always yes. Don Kolloway was a great ambassador for baseball. When he passed away, one newspaper obituary headline stated, “Baseball loses a classy person.” It might have been an understatement.
About a year before his death, Kolloway sat down with columnist Alan Macey of the Southtown Star (Tinley Park, Illinois) and talked baseball and his big-league experiences. He didn’t begrudge modern day players and the amount of money they make and pointed out that in his day he would have made a lot more playing ball than if he had worked in a factory. He said Bob Feller was the toughest pitcher he ever faced. He spoke of the thrill of once shaking Lou Gehrig’s hand and then said how much he admired the Baltimore Orioles’ Cal Ripken Jr., as Ripken was chasing Gehrig’s “ironman” record of playing in 2,130 consecutive games. He also said he liked to watch ball games often until 1:00 a.m. when he could. On June 30, 1994, Don Kolloway died at home while watching PGA golf on television. He was 75 years old. He is survived by his four children and many grandchildren.
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