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The untold story of the unique fifty-year friendship between two American icons: John Glenn, the unassailable pioneer of space exploration and Ted Williams, indisputably the greatest hitter in baseball history.
It was 1953, the Korean War in full throttle, when two men—already experts in their fields—crossed the fabled 38th Parallel into Communist airspace aboard matching Panther jets. John Glenn was an ambitious operations officer with fifty-nine World War II combat missions under his belt. His wingman was Ted Williams, the two-time American League Triple Crown winner who, at the pinnacle of his career, was inexplicably recalled to active service in the United States Marine Corps. Together, the affable flier and the notoriously tempestuous left fielder soared into North Korea, creating a death-defying bond. Although, over the next half century, their contrasting lives were challenged by exhilarating highs and devastating lows, that bond would endure.
Through unpublished letters, unit diaries, declassified military records, manuscripts, and new and illuminating interviews, The Wingmen reveals an epic and intimate portrait of two heroes—larger-than-life and yet ineffably human, ordinary men who accomplished the extraordinary. At its heart, this was a conflicted friendship that found commonality in mutual respect—throughout the perils of war, sports dominance, scientific innovation, cutthroat national politics, the burden of celebrity, and the meaning of bravery. Now, author Adam Lazaraus sheds light on a largely forgotten chapter in these legends’ lives—as singular individuals, inspiring patriots, and eventually, however improbable, profoundly close friends.
Historian Lazarus (Best of Rivals) provides an affable account of the war-forged friendship between Boston Red Sox legend Ted Williams and astronaut-turned-politician John Glenn. As a marine fighter pilot, Williams became acquainted with veteran flying ace Glenn during the Korean War. Cheerful Glenn was initially wary of the quarrelsome, brooding Williams, but the pair developed a tight bond built around a near-death experience: In early 1953, Williams sustained anti-aircraft fire on a mission, and Glenn escorted Williams to safety before he crash-landed the plane. After the war, Glenn served as a test pilot (unexpectedly becoming a bigger celebrity than Williams when he made the first supersonic transcontinental flight over the U.S. in 1957); an astronaut (he was the first American to orbit Earth); and a U.S. senator from Ohio. Williams returned to Major League Baseball after the war, and retired in 1960 to serve as a manager and coach for several major league teams over the next two decades. For the rest of their lives, the pair maintained a strong bond. Before Glenn went back to space in 1998 (becoming the oldest person to do so), he visited Williams at his Florida home for encouragement before the journey, and despite being 80 years old and in fragile health, Williams ventured to Cape Canaveral to watch the launch. Drawing on interviews and archival research, Lazarus narrates his story in an easy and accessible style. It adds up to a touching and highly readable story of male friendship.