"The Wingmen" | Reviewed by Bill Schwab
Shortly after the U.S. entered the Korean War in 1953, two men flew over the 38th Parallel into Communist territory aboard identical Grumman F9F Panther jets. The F9F was the first jet-powered fighter aircraft operated by the United States Navy.
Easygoing John Glenn (1921-2016) was an operations officer responsible for seeing that policies, procedures, and rules were followed day to day. He was an experienced Marine Corps pilot, having flown 59 combat missions during World War II. Ted Williams (1918-2002), the Boston Red Sox star known for his moodiness, had just been recalled to active duty by the U.S. Marine Corps and was not happy about the interruption to his baseball career. Both ended up in the same fighter squadron.
Glenn, the positive career pilot, and Williams, the hot-tempered left fielder, flew into enemy territory together to engage in extremely dangerous missions. Glenn was an ace flyer, a risk taker, often attracting enemy fire. Williams was a good pilot who escaped several incidents, including an emergency landing due to enemy fire that destroyed the mechanism for lowering the wheels of his aircraft.
“The Wingmen” relates ample details about their missions and their daily lives on the air base, then goes on to describe their separate careers after the war. Each man experienced extraordinary successes and trying challenges. Through it all their friendship endured.
Lazarus lets readers know that John Glenn and Ted Williams were dissimilar in many ways.
“Glenn was modest, measured, and above all loyal to his Presbyterian faith, his nation, the Democratic Party, his children, and his wife of seventy-three years, Annie,” writes Lazarus. “Ted Williams was a cocky, moody, foul-mouthed agnostic, an unwavering Republican who had three ex-wives, multiple mistresses, and three children whom he only saw when it was convenient.” What they had in common were the traits of bravery, commitment to excellence, loyalty to their country, and mutual respect.
Using unpublished letters, declassified military records, interviews, diaries, and other archival materials “The Wingmen” sheds light on this largely forgotten chapter in the lives of these two American icons. This historical account of an unusual but lasting friendship is a highly readable account of how two people with very different viewpoints can get along.
About the Author: Adam Lazarus is an author concentrating on nonfiction books highlighting iconic and compelling figures in American history. His writing has appeared in “USA Today,” “ESPN Magazine,” and the “Atlantic-Journal Constitution.”