"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
Baseball fans know him as The Kid, Teddy Ballgame, The Splendid Splinter and The Thumper, but when he was born in San Diego to Samuel Williams and May Venzor, he was named Teddy Samuel Williams.
Williams grew up in Southern California and was taught how to throw a baseball by his uncle when he was 8 years old. Williams began receiving offers from the New York Yankees and St. Louis Cardinals when he was still in high school, but his mother signed him up for the San Diego Padres since she believed he was too young to leave home.
At 19 years old, Williams was taken on by the Boston Red Sox. "It wasn't hard to find Ted Williams," then-Manager Eddie Collins said. "He stood out like a brown cow in a field of white cows." It didn't take long for Williams to become a sensation, coming in second for MVP in his first year. He continued to play with great success until 1942 when he enlisted after the United States entered World War II.
Williams opted out of playing baseball in the Navy to sign up as an aviator. After two years of earning high marks during training, he obtained a commission in the Marine Corps. He served until 1946 in the Reserve Aviation Unit. While he spent time as an instructor at Bronson Field, he was instructed to fail a third of each wave of cadets. Opposed to this practice, Williams said, "If I think a kid is going to make a competent flyer, I won't wash him."
After leaving the military, Williams went straight back to playing baseball. He continued to earn accolades but was called back to the military in 1952 to serve during the Korean War. He flew with the Third Marine Air Wing, 223rd Squadron and was hit multiple times during a large strike over Kyomipo, Korea.
Williams was hit by North Korean forces and safely crash-landed. He was uninjured and flew again the following day, but again took enemy fire over Chinnampo. Afterward, Williams developed pneumonia and an inner-ear problem that hampered his flying ability. This bout of illness influenced Williams to leave the Marines in 1953.
Williams flew 39 missions and earned an impressive array of medals and awards. They include three Air Medals for Aerial Flight Operations, Navy Unit commendation, Presidential Medal of Freedom, American and Asian Pacific Campaign Medal, World War II Victory Medal, National Defense Service Medal and more. He died on July 5, 2002, at age 83.
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