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Ted Williams' Military Service



"I was no hero. There were maybe 75 pilots in our two squadrons and 99% of them did a better job than I did" -Ted Williams


While the Splendid Splinter is known more for his batting average, he also served in both World War II and the Korean War. Each of those wars brought life experiences that would impact his life in very powerful ways. This is his story.


World War II



It was late in 1942 and the world was at war. Meanwhile in Boston, Ted Williams was enjoying one of his best seasons yet, leading the majors with 36 home runs, 137 rbi and the American League with a .356 batting average, earning the first triple crown in the American League since Lou Gehrig in 1934. Life was good.


Then the military called. With America entrenched in one of the biggest wars in world history, they desperately needed reinforcements. they went deeper than the civilian ranks this time, drafting. numerous major league players. While most spent their time playing baseball on various military bases, Ted Williams wanted to contribute more to the war.



After two years of training to be a pilot, Second Lieutenant Ted Williams became a flight instructor at Bronson Field. He cringed at orders to cut a third of his cadets, preferring to develop them into competent pilots. He stayed in that role until 1946 and promptly reported for Spring Training, ready to resume his career as a ballplayer. He and his teammates were pleased to notice that his skills hadn't eroded as he again earned the A.L. Triple Crown in 1947, his second season back. As he settled back into his old routines, he had no reason to believe that he would be back into service. But his country wasn't done with him yet.


Korea



Six years later, America was back in war, this time with the Communist Party of North Korea. While it was unusual, the fact that Ted Williams might soon find himself in combat wasn't exactly unexpected. America needed reinforcements and turned to the Splendid Splinter six games into the 1952 season.


The Red Sox held a "Ted Williams Day" in his last game before he resumed duties as a pilot. After the Red Sox generously pledged to pay his full $82,000 salary and friends gifted him a Cadillac, he returned the favors by hitting a tie-breaking, game-winning two run homer off of Dizzy Trout to give Boston a 5-3 win over the Detroit Tigers. With that, Ted Williams reported for duty and after passing his physical, he was promoted to captain.


While stationed at Willow Grove Station in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania, Williams had his first experience with death when his friend crashed in a test flight while on base. Ted Williams would always say that finding his friend's shoe with his foot still inside was the worst sight he had ever seen. Shaken, Ted Williams would carry that memory with him the rest of the war, knowing that every day was a gift that must be treasured.


While Ted Williams learned how to fly the Grumman F9F Panther, he found himself at an intellectual disadvantage as many of his fellow pilots possessed the college degree that he lacked. Undaunted, he didn't let that hinder him from his duty to his country, often solving problems in a quarter of the time that it took his fellow pilots. In a way, he was using his skills as a pilot in the same way that he taught himself how to swing a bat, by taking a scientific approach to the craft and taking the time to understand every nuance in order to prepare himself for the day when his back was against the wall.


He found himself in that exact position on his first mission. After arriving in Korea as a member of VMF-311, Marine Aircraft Group 33 in February 1953, he found himself flying into enemy territory two weeks later. As a part of a 35-plane airstrike that was targeting a tank and infantry school in Kyomipo, Ted Williams dropped his bombs and soon found his line of sight hindered by a fire in the back of his plane.



With his plane leaking fuel, the emergency lights blaring ever so brightly and his call radio out, Williams was quickly running out of options. His co-pilot's radio was working just fine and so with the plane careening across the sky, he sidled up to the Splendid Splinter and relayed the radio messages through hand signals.. It was only then that Ted Williams learned that his plane's landing gear had failed to get down.


Even their attempts at opening the wheel well was risky as the air only would have provided oxygen to the fire in the area, thus spreading the dangerously close to the cockpit. With no dive brakes and no flaps, there was nothing to slow the plane down as it made its descent onto the tarmac.


Ted Williams had no other choice but to skid the plane's belly on the runway. And so it skidded and scraped the runway for more than a mile, barely missing an oncoming fire truck before mercifully coming to a stop at the very end of the runway. Remarkably, everyone on board survived and Ted Williams' only injury was a sprained ankle from slamming on his brakes so hard.


Since he had spent all of his time as an instructor in World War II, this was his first active mission. He would fly 38 more missions in Korea, with the second coming just a day after his first brush with death, dropping six bombs on a town just south of Pyongyang.


While he served his country well over his two years of service, all was not well for Ted Williams. He had suffered through colds and pneumonia shortly after he arrived and the constantly high altitudes only made his ears and sinuses worse. He eventually developed an ear infection that sent him home for good in 1954. While he would play baseball until 1960 and retire as the with greatest batting average the sport had ever known Ted Williams' greatest accomplishment may have been landing a plane on its belly.




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