As we celebrate Ted Williams’ birthday let’s look back at one part of his epic life that is often overlooked.
Ted Williams is widely regarded at the best pure hitter in baseball history. But let’s not remember him for being the last man to hit over .400 in a season. Or his two triple crowns (1941 and 1947). Let’s remember Ted Williams for his courage.
It is often overlooked that Ted Williams served his country dedicating almost five years out of the heart of a great baseball career to our country. Being the best baseball player in the world he could have easily landed a desk job pushing paper but no, he decided to go into the air force to protect the freedom we all rely so heavily on today.
From June to August 1945, Williams went through the Corsair Operational Training Unit at Jacksonville and broke all the records in reflexes, coordination, and visual-reaction during training. He was said to be one of the most skilled pilots available in WWII but did not see any action while stationed in Hawaii.
When the war ended Williams returned to the Red Sox in 1946 and took up where he had left off, leading the team to the World Series, and winning the MVP crown. In 1947 and 1948, he won the American League batting championship and was the MVP again in 1949.
On May 1, 1952, at the age of 33, Williams stepped up to the plate again 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.
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 anti aircraft fire 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.
In Korea, Williams flew 39 combat missions before being being withdrawn from flight status in June 1953 after a hospitalization for pneumonia.
At final count his squadron the “Tomcats” amassed 18,851 combat sorties and during half his missions Williams flew as the wingman of future first man in Space and senator John Glenn.
General Douglas MacArthur, referring to him as his “idol”. For Williams’ fortieth birthday, MacArthur sent him an oil painting of himself with the inscription “To Ted Williams — not only America’s greatest baseball player, but a great American who served his country. Your friend, Douglas MacArthur. General U.S. Army.”