Richard Gross of North Port, Fla. remembers the late Ted Williams more a war hero than a baseball superstar.
Because he served with the former Boston Red Sox left fielder in 1953 in Korea.
Gross was attached to the 319th Fighter Intercepter Squadron in ’53 and Williams was a member of the 1st Marine Air Wing assigned to the VMF 311 fighter Squadron based at K-3 air base at P’ohang-dong that same year.
One of Gross’ prized possessions of that conflict is a picture he took of Williams’ F9F Panther jet, which Williams crash-landed at K-3 after it was seriously shot up by enemy ground fire. The ball player walked away from the near calamity.
“Those F9Fs were ground support aircraft. They flew very low and were subject to being hit by flak,” Gorss said.
“Immediately after he landed the plane, they transported Ted back to his Marine Corps base in South Korea.”
Gross said he doesn’t recall seeing Williams’ plane crash-land, but he did go over and take a picture of the remains of the fighter. It was sitting beside a hangar after it was carted off the runway, he explained.
“It was riddled with flak holes from one of the strafing missions in North Korea,” he said. “Ted flew more than 39 missions in Korea.”
Years later, “in 1959, while in Washington, D.C. I met him at his office and he autographed the back of the picture I had taken of his plane in Korea. At the time, Ted was the manager of the Washington Senators baseball club,” Gross said.
Although most people remember Ted Williams as possibly the greatest hitter who ever lived, Gross believes the ball player should also be remembered as an American patriot who served as a flying instructor in World War II. During the Korean War where he was called back he was a front-line fighter pilot.
Had Williams not given five of his peak major league ball playing years to the Marines, his carer batting numbers would have been even more phenomenal. But that’s what makes the “Splendid Splinter” a very special human being.”
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Thursday, July 25, 2002 and is republished with permission.
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