During his time with the Boston Red Sox, left fielder Ted Williams went by many names. The Splendid Splinter. Teddy Ballgame. The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived. While these monikers were very apropos to his astonishing playing ability, one name that will truly define this San Diego native is hero.
Joining The Battle
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Things were going smoothly during his first few years with the franchise. His rookie season was praised by sports journalists, and his .406 batting average in the 1941 season is still one of the highest in MLB history. When World War II began in 1942, Williams was drafted into Class 1-A, which is for those ready to take on military services. The baseball star’s family were no strangers to war; his uncle Daniel Venzor was killed in battle during World War I.
In The Navy
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Due to his mother’s dependency on him, he fought to have his status dropped to Class 3-A, which removed him from service. “My conscience is clear. I have as much right to be exempted as anyone else. I have my mother to support,” stated the star in a press release. As expected, he gained a plethora of negative attention from those around him. He did, however, promise to make it up to his country. “When the season is over, I’ll get into the Navy as fast as I can.”
One day after hitting his 100th home run on May 21, 1942, Williams enlisted into the Navy Reserve, which earned him even more disdain from teammates. “I’m tickled to death and I’m hoping I’ll get into the air quick to start some slugging against the Axis,” he told reporters shortly after his life-altering decision.
Take To The Skies
Along with teammate John Pesky, Williams spent six months in training before becoming a Naval Aviator. Missing three years of baseball didn’t faze him much. He was busy tightening up his craft as a pilot. In 1946, he returned to the field to deliver five phenomenal seasons worth of performances before being called back into service in the Korean War.
Williams was partnered with a young John Glenn, who went on to become the first astronaut to orbit the Earth. “Ted flew as my wingman on about half the missions he flew in Korea,” Glenn recalled. During the war, Williams was a part of 39 missions in total, which resulted in him losing hearing. Glenn remembers the young man almost losing his life multiple times. “Once, he was on fire and had to belly land the plane back in,” Glenn remembered. “He slid it in on the belly. It came up the runway about 1,500 feet before he was able to jump out and run off the wingtip.”
A Great American Hero
In the end, Williams, resigned from service with a multitude of medals, including the United Nations Service Medal. When it comes to his time in the military, he stated, “The three years that I lost – hell, there were nine billion guys who contributed a lot more than I did.” Glenn, however, saw his contribution in a different light. “Much as I appreciate baseball, Ted to me will always be a Marine fighter pilot,” he said.