Military Book Reviews

The Wingmen: The Unlikely, Unusual, Unbreakable Friendship Between John Glenn and Ted Williams

The Wingmen: The Unlikely, Unusual, Unbreakable Friendship Between John Glenn and Ted Williams by Adam Lazarus, Citadel, August 22, 2023, 304 pages

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, had been 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Through unpublished letters, unit diaries, declassified military records, manuscripts, and new and illuminating interviews, The Wingmen reveals an epic and intimate portrait of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 Lazarus sheds light on a largely forgotten chapter in these legends’ lives—as singular individuals, inspiring patriots, and eventually, however improbable, profoundly close friends.


Overview

The Wingmen is a captivating story about the friendship between two iconic figures – astronaut John Glenn and baseball legend Ted Williams. The book sheds light on their unique camaraderie but falls short in delivering its impact. Lazarus delves into the lives of Glenn and Williams, providing readers with a compelling account of their friendship. He juxtaposes their different backgrounds and highlights the curious circumstances that brought them together.

The Wingmen offers a fascinating insight into the parallel worlds of space exploration and professional sports. This showcases the contrast between Glenn’s pioneering space missions and Williams’ record-breaking baseball career. Lazarus uses vivid imagery of their interactions, which makes it easy for the reader to envision their friendship. One of the author’s strengths is his ability to capture the essence of Glenn and Williams as individuals. He goes beyond their public personas and reveals their vulnerabilities and insecurities. This humanizing portrayal adds depth to their characters and allows readers to connect with them on a more personal level.

Takeaways

Occasionally, the book stumbles in its narrative flow. Lazarus’ decision to alternate between the perspectives of Glenn and Williams disrupts the coherence of the story. The constant back-and-forth between their lives detracts from the overall reading experience. His approach intends to provide a comprehensive view of their relationship, but it hampers the book’s ability to maintain momentum. Lazarus’ writing style, while engaging, veers into excessive sentimentalism. The author appears enamored with the idea of this extraordinary friendship, which borders idealization. The romanticized portrayal of Glenn and Williams’ bond may make some readers question its authenticity. A nuanced exploration of their friendship could have provided a more balanced perspective. The author’s analysis of the broader social and cultural contexts in which Glenn and Williams lived is shallow. Lazarus doesn’t elaborate on the complexities of societal issues. He touches on the societal challenges they faced, such as the pressures of fame and changes in space exploration and professional sports. The narrative could have been enriched if a deeper exploration of how their friendship intersected with these larger dynamics provided a more comprehensive understanding of their bond.

The Wingmen draws heavily from preexisting sources, which leaves readers wanting more original insights. The reliance on secondary materials limits the author’s ability to offer fresh perspectives. Lazarus also interviews individuals close to Glenn and Williams. A more exhaustive exploration of primary sources and exclusive interviews could have added a layer of depth to the narrative. Despite these observations, this book uncovers the intricate friendship between two remarkable individuals. It captures the essence of Glenn and Williams, highlighting their shared experiences and the human aspects of their bond. The Wingmen is an enjoyable read for those interested in the lives of these iconic figures. Aviation and baseball enthusiasts alike will enjoy turning these pages.


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