BOSTON -- Whenever someone would mention the word hero and Ted Williams in the same breath, Williams would shake his head and say he wasn't a hero. He said there were many more heroes in his squadron, and that 99 percent of the pilots were better pilots than he was. We all know better; he is a hero.
Williams is a hero to baseball fans around the world whom he delighted with his smooth, sweet swing over a 19-year career.
He is a hero to children with cancer whom he spent endless evenings cheering up and even longer hours raising money and awareness for the Jimmy Fund, the fundraising arm of the Dana Farber Cancer Institute for children.
He is a hero to Marines, having served as a Marine pilot in both World War II and the Korean War.
The city of Boston, baseball and the Marine Corps thanked their hero at a historic ceremony at Fenway Park here July 22 on a crisp New England summer night.
Williams is a hero of a rare vintage. What is remarkable about his serving in not only one, but two wars, is the fact that he relinquished not only personal glory, but risked not being able to return to the sport he loved lest he got injured or worse.
"He was a monumental example of patriotism," said Sgt. James Sobey, fiscal chief, Recruiting Station Portsmouth, N.H. "He did more than anyone could have possibly asked, and he did it voluntarily."
"Just to participate in a tribute to such a great American floors me," said Sobey, a Cleveland native. "I am basically speechless."
"He was the most competent man I ever met," said Curt Gowdy, former Red Sox broadcaster and host of the television show American Sportsman. "He was the best hitter who ever lived, the best all-around fisherman who ever lived, and among the best pilots who ever lived."
Williams flew 39 combat missions, including a crash landing in which he jumped out and ran for cover just before the plane blew up.
"He was an excellent pilot, a courageous pilot, and he wasn't one to hold back," said John Glenn, a former senator and Marine colonel. "He was always pressing the attack."
Although he only spent a total of five years in service, his love of the Marine Corps was always evident.
"The Marine Corps meant so much to Ted," said Glenn. "I remember going to visit him a year ago and he was sitting in his chair wearing a sweatshirt with a huge USMC emblem on it and a matching hat."
Williams said the two things he is most proud of in his life are being a Marine and being in the Hall of Fame. This pride is not lost on the Marines of today.
"To know this man had such a love for the Corps makes me even prouder to be a Marine," said Cpl. Nathaniel Butler, an air traffic controller stationed with Company B, 1st Battalion, 25th Marines in Londonderry, N.H. "He lived the phrase 'Once a Marine, always a Marine.' It just heightens your Esprit de Corps."
It is often debated what type of numbers Ted Williams would have put up had he had those five years of service back. If he had those five years back one thing would be sure: we would not be talking about Ted Williams the great American, the zealous patriot, the proficient pilot, the hero. Rather, we would be talking simply about a great baseball player who could see the ball real well.
Semper Fi, Teddy Ballgame. Rest in peace.