In baseball and beyond, Williams was a true American hero
By Gordon Edes, Globe Staff, 07/06/02
Serving his country
His numbers certainly would have been better if he had not lost almost five full seasons in the prime of his career to military duty, in World War II (1943-45) and the Korean War (1952-53). In his first hitch, Williams served as a Naval flight instructor in Pensacola, Fla., was commissioned as a second lieutenant there, and received combat training in Jacksonville, Fla., but World War II ended as he prepared to be sent to Honolulu.
At the age of 33, married and with a daughter, Williams was called up by the Marines and flew 39 combat missions in Korea, where he was commissioned a captain and served for a time as wingman to John Glenn, the future astronaut and US Senator.
On his third mission, on Feb. 16, 1953, while flying a Navy F-9 Panther to scout a tank and infantry training school near Pyongyang, Williams was hit by small-arms fire that knocked out his radio and compass, and disabled his landing gear. He landed the aircraft while it was on fire and ran to safety before the plane was consumed in flames.
"Everybody tries to make a hero out of me over the Korean thing,’’ Williams said. "I was no hero.’’
His country chose to believe otherwise. On Nov. 18, 1991, Williams was summoned to the White House by President George Bush and presented the Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award. Bush saluted him as a "twice-tested war hero’’ and "true champion.’’
His war record, and his tireless work for the Jimmy Fund, for which Williams helped raise millions of dollars for cancer research in nearly a half-century as the charity’s most visible spokesman, also were cited when the state of Massachusetts voted to name the third harbor tunnel the Ted Williams Tunnel, which was dedicated on Dec. 15, 1995.
In his native California, state highway 56 was renamed Ted Williams Parkway, and the fields on which he played as a child and as a high schooler in San Diego also have been renamed after him.