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Leo Dolan


Date and Place of Birth: May 20, 1894 Lockport, NY
Date and Place of Death:    October 16, 1918 Champigneulle, France
Baseball Experience: Minor League
Position: Pitcher
Rank: Corpporal
Military Unit: Company I, 309th Infantry Regiment, 78th Division US Army
Area Served: France

Leo Dolan and Matt Lanighan were semi-pro batterymates and good friends. Together they left the sandlots of America to serve their country in France during World War I. Both men were killed in action within minutes of each other.

Bernard L. “Leo” Dolan was born in Lockport, New York, on May 20, 1894, to Bernard and Ellen Dolan. A tall, powerful, natural athlete, Dolan pitched for numerous semi-pro teams in and around Lockport. In 1916, the left-hander hurled the South End Hustlers to the Lockport city and county championship and was signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates in March 1917, after being recommended to club owner Barney Dreyfuss by Chris Clune, former Cincinnati Reds trainer, who, at the time, was living in Lockport. Dolan reported to the Pirates in Pittsburgh and then traveled with the club to its spring training camp in Columbus, Georgia.

Shortly after Dolan's arrival in Columbus, Clune received a letter from him describing the exploits of the Pirates.

"The fellows were stiff and sore after the first week, but that trouble has now worn off. All the hold-outs, [Walter] Schmidt, [William] Fischer, [Babe] Adams and [Max] Carey – have reported. I am looking forward to a strenuous week this week. We will play a game every afternoon. Last week we played a game between the Grays and Whites (color of uniforms). I was on the Grays and got along nicely. There were but two hits made and no runs off me. At bat I came across with a hit. Three pitchers were used on each side, each pitching three innings. I was one of them.

"An exhibition game was played Friday afternoon against Auburn College, a team about fifty miles from here. The Pirates were victorious, scoring all their runs in the second inning. The score was five to two. [Wilbur] Cooper, [Elmer] Jacobs and [Hal] Carlson did the pitching.

"All the pitchers seem to have a kink in their arm but, starting this week, [Jimmy] Callahan expects us to use all the stuff we have. Cooper, while pitching Friday, suffered a lot of pain with his arm. He said he always has a sore arm. About a week after that it comes around into good shape. He is a fine fellow.

"My arm is a little stiff but not nearly as much as it has been in previous years. I am taking my time and my control is good. I haven't tried to curve any yet.

"I couldn't safely state how my chances are right now but I suppose this week will determine. I am working hard to stick.

"I didn't have the pleasure of meeting Honus Wagner. Callahan is afraid that he has given up the diamond work. He (Wagner) is thirty pounds overweight. I am told. He is at Pittsburgh."

Although Dolan didn’t make it with the Pirates, he was signed by the Columbus Foxes of the Class C South Atlantic League. In five appearances he was 1-3 before the league was disbanded due to the war.

Returning home to Lockport, Dolan signed with the Lockport Fibres – the Fibre Corporation’s entry in the semi-pro Lockport Industrial League. He pitched the Fibres to their fifth Industrial League championship in 1917 then defeated his former club, the South End Hustlers, in the city series. He also played for the North Mains team in the Washington League of the Municipal Baseball Association in Buffalo that year. His last game for the Fibres was against the Niagalks, Industrial League champions of Niagara Falls in September. “It was the finest bit of pitching Lockport's portside hurler ever exhibited,” reported the Lockport Union Sun & Journal.

On September 26, 1917, days after defeating the Niagalks, Leo Dolan and his batterymate and good friend Matt Lanighan boarded a train at Lockport bound for military service. Bob Wood, manager of the Fibres and George O’Brien, field captain, as well as other members of the Fibre team and employees of the Fibre Corporation, were at the station to bid farewell to the best battery to ever play semi-pro ball in Lockport. Little did they realize that neither would return home.

Four days after they left Lockport, Dolan and Lanighan were honoured at the second meeting of the Fibres and Niagalks. “A testimonial will be tendered these boys by the Fibres, who will wear small flags on the left sleeve of their uniforms,” announced the Union-Sun & Journal. “It will be "Dolan and Lanighan Day" and the Fibres' share of the gate receipts will be turned over to them. Although absent, Leo and Matt will be honored, feted and applauded by Lockport's fandom in real style."

Dolan and Lanighan trained at Camp Dix in Wrightstown, New Jersey, where they found a little time for more baseball, both playing on the same team in the regimental league at the camp.

The following year Corporal Dolan and Sergeant Lanighan were in France with Company I, 309th Infantry Regiment of the 78th Division. During Company I’s attack against German positions in the Argonne on October 16, 1918, Corporal Leo Dolan saw a comrade fall after being struck by machine gun fire. Although wounded himself and with complete disregard for his own safety he left the shell hole where he was taking cover and went to the aid of his comrade. Struck in the stomach by machine gun fire, Leo Dolan was dead within half an hour.

Minutes later, a German artillery shell exploded close to where Sgt. Matt Lanighan and 1/Lt. John H. Field, Jr., were standing. Lanighan was killed instantly. Sergeant Lanighan had just led his platoon against German positions in the face of a rain of enemy machine gun fire. As men all around him were mowed down Sergeant Lanighan had forged ahead and captured 86 German troops. With two thirds of his men killed or wounded he had been recalled by his commanding officer, 1/Lt. Field, to plan the next move. The two of them were discussing this when the deadly explosion occurred.

Of the 250 men of Company I that went into the attack that day, only nine returned.

In January 1919, Leo Dolan's mother received a letter from 1/Lt. Field.

"Dear Mrs Dolan:
Nothing can repay you for the loss of Leo. I know, but I hope you won't mind my telling you that I miss him every day and we all miss him more than we can express. He was well prepared to die always and you will meet him again when he calls you. America has never given two finer boys than Leo and Matt and it's strange that God chose both at the same time.

"You do not need to be assured that he was a credit to you at all times and a fine example to all the regiment. I know many who would gladly have given their life for his any time, and it was a shock to all of us when he fell. He was in the advance wave - as usual when he was hit by two machine gun bullets and died shortly afterward.

"Truly many were called but few are chosen that day. You gave and in doing so gave the best. None can be prouder in their sorrow than you."

Leo Dolan was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. He is buried at the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery in Romagne, France, at Plot A, Row 45, Grave 31. Matt Lanighan, who also posthumously received the DSC, is buried at the same cemetery at Plot E, Row 41, Grave 17.

Lockport’s first American Legion Post was named after Leo Dolan in 1919. In May 1931, his mother was one of a number of Gold Star mothers who traveled to France to visit the graves of their fallen sons.

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal, Mar 6, 1917
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal, Mar 23, 1917
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal, Sept 26, 1917
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal, Dec 11, 1918
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal, Feb 1, 1919
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal, July 8, 1919
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal, May 15, 1931

Date Added July 7, 2012


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