California State Military Department
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Californians and the Military
Ted Williams
Baseball Legend, Marine Corps Aviator
 
by M.L. Shettle, Jr.
 
Williams poses with other outstanding athletes who are training personnel at stations in the Pensacola area on August 1, 1944.
 

Theodore Samuel Williams was born on August 30, 1918 in San Diego, California. His father was a World War I veteran. Williams' mother was half-Mexican and worked for the Salvation Army. Williams grew up as the local baseball phenomenon and after graduating from high school, signed a contract with the San Diego Padres - then a minor league team of the Pacific Coast League. That December, the Boston Red Sox purchased Williams contract. After two years with the Red Sox's AAA minor league team in Minneapolis, Williams was brought to Boston. In his rookie year of 1939, he batted.327 with 31 home runs and 145 RBIs - the first rookie up to that time to lead the league in RBIs. From the outset, the out spoken, thin-skinned Williams had a contemptuous and confrontational relationship with Boston's fans and press. In August 1940, he was quoted in the press as calling Boston a lousy sports town, hating Fenway Park and fans, asking to be traded, and calling his $12,500 salary peanuts - later he denied the story. In 1941, he became the last major league hitter to bat over .400. The next year, Williams won the Triple Crown.

Meanwhile, Williams had been classified 3-A due to the fact that his mother was totally dependent on him. When his classification was changed to 1-A following the U.S. entry into the war, Williams appealed to his draft board. The board agreed that his status should not have been changed. He made a public statement that once he had built up his mother's trust fund, he intended to enlist. Nevertheless, the press and the fans got on his case to the point that he enlisted in the Navy on May 22, 1942. Williams could have received an easy assignment and played baseball for the Navy. Instead, he joined the V-5 program and set his sights on being a Naval Aviator. Navy doctors were amazed when his eyes tested to 20/10 - a key to his hitting prowess. Since he had not attended college, Williams was first sent to the Navy's Preliminary Ground School at Amherst College, following the baseball season, for six months of instruction in various subjects including math and navigation. He achieved a 3.85 grade average out of a possible 4.0. The next four months were spent in the Preflight School at Athens, Georgia. From September to December 1943, Williams took primary training at NAS Bunker Hill, Indiana. He then went to Pensacola for intermediate training where he set records in aerial gunnery. Williams received his wings and commission in the Marine Corps on May 2, 1944.

Williams then attended gunnery training at Jacksonville where he once again set gunnery records. He then returned to Pensacola where he served as an instructor at Bronson Field. He played baseball for the base team, the Bronson Bombers, which won the Training Command championship that year. Due to an excess of cadets, instructors were mandated to washout one third of their students. Williams refused to washout good students for the sake of statistics and was called on the carpet for it. He stood his ground and replied: "If I think a kid is going to make a competent flyer, I won't wash him." From June to August 1945, Williams went through the Corsair Operational Training Unit at Jacksonville. He was in Hawaii awaiting orders as a replacement pilot when the war ended. Williams returned to the States in December and was discharged from the Marines on January 28, 1946.

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 2, 1952, Williams was recalled to active duty due to the Korean War. He was now 33 years old, married with a child, and had not flown in eight years. He resented being recalled and said so years later. Williams was not alone in his unhappiness - many other WW II veterans recalled for the Korean War had similar feelings. These veterans felt they had done their share in World War II and it was someone else's job to fight this war. Especially after they were well established in their careers and had families. Additional resentment was felt because the Navy and the Marines recalled members of the inactive reserves instead of active reserves. Mitchner referred to this situation in his work The Bridges at Toko-Ri. After completing jet refresher training in the F9F at Cherry Point, NC, Williams joined VMF-311 in Korea. He flew 37 combat missions and had a narrow escape when he crash-landed a flak damaged aircraft. Several missions were flown with John Glenn. Among the decorations he received was the Air Medal with two Gold Stars for meritorious achievement. Williams returned to the States and relieved from active duty on July 28, 1953.

Williams returned to the Red Sox for the remainder of the season, batting .407 with 13 homeruns. In 1954, he incurred several injuries and retired at the end of the season. Next spring he had a change of heart and rejoined the team. The next two years, injuries reduced his playing time. During 1957 and 1958, Williams was in good health and responded by winning the American League batting championship both years. Injuries and age caught up with him, and he retired at the end of the 1960 season, hitting a home run his last time at bat. Returning to baseball, Williams managed the Washington Senators for four years and won the Manager of the Year in 1968, his first season.

Ted Williams was one of the greatest baseball players of all time with the fourth highest lifetime batting average. He ranks high in many other categories as well. If his relationship with the press had been better, he probably would have been voted MVP more than he was. One can only speculate what he could have achieved if his baseball career had not be interrupted during the four and a half years he spent in World War II and Korea. In 1966, Williams was elected to baseball's Hall of Fame. His hometown of San Diego renamed a street Ted Williams Way and the State of California designated a nine-mile segment of route 56 as Ted Williams Parkway. The 1999 All-Star Game was held at Boston's Fenway Park. Williams was the guest of honor and it was quite a touching thing to see how much he is revered by today's fans and players.
 
Ted Williams passed way on July 5, 2002 in Inverness, Florida


Copied with the permission of the author from United States Marine Corps Air Stations of World War II.

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