In a series of 38 letters, Ted Williams shared his ‘innermost” thoughts from his time serving as a U.S. Marine combat pilot during the Korean War. Now those letters, including one describing a fiery plane crash that Williams survived in 1953, are going up for auction.
According to the Associated Press, the personal letters were written to Williams’ mistress at the time, Evelyn Turner. They will be auctioned with other items from Turner’s estate on Jan. 3 in Biddeford, Maine. Other items include photos of Williams in Turner’s home, along with newspaper clippings and Turner’s own personal writings about Williams.
In the prime of his Hall of Fame career, Williams famously walked away prior to the 1943 season to serve three years in the US Navy and US Marine Corps during World War II. Upon his return in 1946, Williams immediately returned to his elite form, even winning the AL MVP. But his service was far from over. In 1952, he returned to active military duty during the Korean War, which forced him to miss portions of the next two seasons.
It was during his second stint that Williams’ life was nearly changed forever. On Feb. 16, 1953, he miraculously walked away from a plane crash that he would describe in harrowing detail in one of those letters written to Turner.
“I had holes all over the plane and I was riding on all the prayers people say for me ’cause I was awfully lucky. My plane was burning like hell when I crash landed. Everybody around here now is calling me lucky. Anyway, I’m missing you,” Williams wrote to Turner, according to the Associated Press.
Williams’ written account sheds enough light on the incident to drive its seriousness. That account was backed up in even greater detail in a piece written by the Marine Corps Association and Foundation following Williams’ death in 2002.
The midnight-blue F9F “Panther” jet was coming in “heavy” and very fast. Its sluggish movements, trailing smoke and streaming 30-foot ribbon of fire all indicated serious danger. The pilot obviously was having difficulty controlling his aircraft, but he was too low to eject. His only course, therefore, was to try to bring his crippled aircraft in.
An already tense situation became worse when an explosion rocked the undercarriage as the plane approached the airstrip. The stubby fighter plane made a wheels-up “belly” landing, skidding along the tarmac with sparks flying for almost a mile before coming to a stop. The nose promptly burst into flames that threatened the cockpit. The trapped aviator blew off the canopy, struggled out of the plane and limped away, hitting the ground in a less-than-perfect baseball slide.
The plane was a total wreck, but the fortunate pilot suffered only minor scrapes. Later, the airmen at Suwon learned they had witnessed the dramatic escape of the most famous flying leatherneck in Korea; that lucky pilot was none other than Ted Williams, a star professional baseball player who was serving as a Marine reservist.
Despite carrying the scars of war and this life-changing experience with him, Williams would again return to his role as a standard bearer in MLB. He would go on to finish top ten in MVP voting five more times in his career, and even won the AL batting championship in 1957 and 1958 at the age of 38 and 39 respectively.
Many believe Williams’ ability to balance his service time with a Hall of Fame baseball career that included 521 home runs and a remarkable .406 batting average in 1942, puts Williams over the top in the debate over who is the greatest baseball player of all-time. If nothing else, it cemented a legacy that’s second to none.
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