I have an interesting postscript to John Miles’ article on the famous ballplayer [“The Thumper’ Goes to War”]. As a boy I would watch Ted Williams in awe when the Red Sox stopped in Charleston, S.C., to play an exhibition game against the local team on their way north after spring training.
In early August 1953 I was a patient in what is now Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, having graduated a month before from the U.S. Naval Academy. Williams was admitted as a patient and assigned the room next to mine. (He had developed an ear infection in Korea and couldn’t fly anymore.) Early on he ate in the officers’ dining room but was bothered by people, so he started having meals sent to his room. I was still confined to bed, so he would bring his food tray into my room, and we would talk while we ate. Every morning a contingent of doctors, including the commander of the hospital, would gather outside his door and ask how he was. He would reply that he was fine and tell them to treat him the same as any other patient. One day I missed him and thought he had been discharged. But when I turned on the TV that night to watch the MLB All-Star Game in Chicago, he was there and was introduced as the war hero he was. The next morning he was back.
A few weeks later I had recuperated enough to move around and decided to play golf on the hospital course to help regain my strength. He saw me in the hall and asked where I was going. I told him, and he asked if he could join me. We played nine holes, and he was good at it. We both left the hospital shortly after that.
Incidentally, Shirley Temple Black was also a patient in the hospital at that time, giving birth to one of her children. She was married to a commander in the Navy.
Cmdr. Robert H. Knight
U.S. Navy (Ret.)
Your March article on Ted Williams was very interesting. Ted also flew alongside Jerry Coleman, who played baseball with the New York Yankees. Coleman was named rookie of the year [in 1949] and flew combat missions in both World War II and Korea. He eventually became a lieutenant colonel in the Marine Corps.
Thomas J. Keeley
Fair Oaks Ranch, Texas
[Re. “Justice From the Yardarms,” by Paul X. Rutz, March 2021] on the infamous Somers Mutiny, which was never, in fact, a “mutiny” at all: Somers was a training ship, not unlike the one on which I used to sail during the summer sea terms at the State University of New York Maritime College. Unfortunately, Somers was not very suitable for that purpose, being too small, too crowded and having too few supervisory officers to maintain order. The ship was so overcrowded that they did not have a “brig” in which to secure prisoners, instead tying them up in the open on the quarterdeck, in full view of the ship’s company, a circumstance that did nothing to improve discipline or morale. At the time of Cmdr. [Alexander Slidell] Mackenzie’s court-martial the main issue was not so much whether the [three] culprits had been guilty or not, but whether Mackenzie really had no choice but to hang them, or whether he should have brought them into port for trial and disciplinary action. Nobody cared about the fate of the two enlisted seamen, but Midshipman [Philip] Spencer was not only the son of a very prominent government official, but also only a high school–aged kid. A large portion of the 19th century public thought hanging a schoolboy was carrying discipline too far. One major result was the creation of the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., for the future training of Navy midshipmen, rather than training them aboard active warships as apprentice officers.
It is worth noting that a son of Commander Mackenzie, Ranald Slidell Mackenzie, became an Army officer with a reputation for extreme personal bravery, being wounded no less than seven times. It has been alleged Ranald Mackenzie’s recklessness may have been impelled, at least in part, by a desire to live down his father’s disgrace in the infamous Somers affair.
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