Fritz Von Kolnitz - Baseball's Greatest Sacrifice

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Fritz Von Kolnitz

Ballplayers Decorated in Combat

 

Date and Place of Birth: May 20, 1893 Charleston, SC
Date and Place of Death:    March 18, 1948 Mount Pleasant, SC
Baseball Experience: Major League
Position: Third Base/Outfield
Rank: Lieutenant-Colonel
Military Unit:  322nd Bomb Group US Army Air Force
Area Served: European Theater of Operations

Alfred H. "Fritz" Von Kolnitz, the son of lawyer, was born in Charleston, South Carolina, on May 20, 1893. He attended the University of South Carolina Law School, but in 1913, he decided to start a career in professional baseball. At that time, there was a lot of anti-German sentiment in the United States, and he signed with the Morristown Jobbers of the Class D Appalachian League under the name of R. H. Holmes, batting .412 in 75 games.

Any player with a batting average like that was going to be noticed and he signed with the Cincinnati Reds, under his real name, the following year. Making his major league debut on April 18, 1914, against the Pittsburgh Pirates, the 21-year-old third baseman/outfielder played 41 games and batted .221. In 1915, he played 50 games and hit .192, followed by 24 games with the Chicago White Sox in 1916, batting .227.

Von Kolnitz refused to report to the White Sox in 1917, and played independent ball in North Carolina, before entering military service after the United States entered the First World War.

When he attempted to enlist he was met with four stern-faced army colonels. Von Kolnitz said, later, that the conversation went as follows:

"Where were you born?" asked one.
"America," replied Von Kolnitz.
"What is your father's nationality?" queried the second.
"American."
"Where was your grandfather born?" came from a third.
"Right here in the USA," he answered, "and my great-grandfather came here before the Revolution."
"Well," growled the fourth colonel. "You'd better get rid of that 'Von.'"

Von Kolnitz was assigned to the Air Service and trained at Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, where he became a pilot. He was involved in a flying accident during this time which resulted in a short stay in hospital for concussion. He went on to attain the rank of lieutenant as supervising inspector of aircraft, and was assigned to Camp Gordon, Georgia, where he was made an adjutant, and then an instructor. Von Kolnitz played a lot of baseball at Camp Gordon, and was promoted from the rank of captain to major in September 1918, making him the highest ranked former major league player in military service during the First World War.

Following military service, Von Kolnitz returned to Charleston, where he worked as a lawyer and in real estate. In August 1919, he returned to professional baseball with the Charleston Gulls of the Class C South Atlantic League. In 22 games he batted .273 and was back with the team in 1920, hitting .356 in 82 games. In 1921, with the Charleston club now known as the Pals and playing Class B baseball, Von Kolnitz batted .322 in 116 games and hit .275 for club in 1922, his final year in professional baseball.

Von Kolnitz pursued a career in real estate and insurance between the wars, and wrote several books and articles on the American Revolution and Civil War. He also served as athletics director of the College of Charleston, and was L. Mendel Rivers' rival in the Democratic Primary for the First Congressional District of South Carolina, in 1940.

He was back in military service with the outbreak of World War II and in charge of Squadron 1, Officer's Training School (OTS) at Miami Beach Training Center in Florida. He later became the senior intelligence officer with the 322nd Bomb Group stationed in England. The 322nd Bomb Group was stationed at Bury St. Edmunds, and was the first to fly Martin B-26 Marauders from the United Kingdom. In September 1943, Von Kolnitz was awarded the Legion of Merit for perfecting a sand-table that he used to familiarize his air crews with their targets.

Von Kolnitz had attained the rank of lieutenant-colonel before the end of the war. He went back to Charleston, where he was vice-president and treasurer of a real estate company. On March 18, 1948, Alfred Von Kolnitz passed away at his home in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, following a heart attack. He was 54 years old and is buried at Magnolia Cemetery in Charleston.

Date Added January 22, 2018

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