Ted Williams completed his tour in Korea and returned to major league baseball, and he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame following his retirement.
US Marine Corps groundcrewmen at Suwon’s K-13 airfield knew there was going to be trouble on Feb. 16, 1953 when they noticed the crash, fire and rescue crews hastily manning their vehicles.
As told by Warren Thompson in his book F9F Panther Units of the Korean War, it duly arrived when a midnight blue F9F Panther jet (BuNo 126109 of VMF-311) came in ‘heavy’ and very fast. Its sluggish movements, trailing smoke and streaming a 30-ft ribbon of fire, all indicated serious hazard.
The pilot was obviously having difficulty controlling his aircraft, but he was too low to eject. His only option was to try to bring the crippled jet in for an emergency landing.
An already tense situation became worse when an explosion rocked the aircraft as it approached the airstrip.
The Panther made a wheels-up landing, skidding along the tarmac on its belly for almost a mile with sparks flying from it. The nose promptly burst into flames, threatening the cockpit. The pilot blew off his canopy, struggled out and limped away.
The aircraft, which had only been in Korea since Jan. 11, 1953, was a total wreck, but its pilot escaped with minor injuries.
Later, the airmen at Suwon learned they had witnessed the dramatic escape of the most famous ‘flying leatherneck’ in Korea, none other than Ted Williams, a star professional baseball player serving as a US Marine Corps reservist.
Williams completed his tour and returned to major league baseball, and he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame following his retirement.
Others who would go on to achieve fame after flying Panthers in Korea were future astronauts John Glenn and Neil Armstrong.
Maj John Glenn also saw action with VMF-311 in Korea in 1953.
A veteran of 59 combat missions in the South Pacific during World War 2, Glenn completed an additional 63 sorties in Panthers – whilst with VMF-311 he gained the dubious nickname ‘magnet ass’ from his apparent ability to attract enemy flak. Twice he returned to base with more than 250 flak holes in his aircraft.
Glenn flew for a time with Ted Williams, and subsequently completed a second Korean combat tour on an inter-service exchange programme with the USAF’s 51st Fighter Wing. He logged 27 missions in the F-86F Sabre, shooting down three MiG-15s near the Yalu River in the final days of the conflict.
F9F Panther Units of the Korean War is published by Osprey Publishing and is available to order here.
Photo credit: Merv Corning via Worthpoint