"Hey, buddy, do me a favor. Get some garbage cans and pick up those birds, will ya?"
Three cans were needed to do the job.
Though Williams served three years as a pilot in World War II, he did not fly a combat mission until this one, in Korea in 1953.
The Allies sent 200 planes to attack a Communist troop-and-supply center in Kyiomipo, 15 miles south of Pyongyang, the North Korean capital. Williams, filled with the mixture of excitement and nervousness of a new man, followed the plan of attack. He dropped from the sky at the prescribed time, dove lower than 2,000 feet to drop his bombs and then pulled back on his controls and felt great as the plane followed his command. He had passed his first test, gone through the enemy fire and come out the other side.
Then the trouble began.
The stick started to shake in his hand. He tried to call one of the other pilots, but the radio was dead. He had been hit. However, 22-year-old pilot Larry Hawkins saw that Williams's plane was going the wrong way—toward Pyongyang, "where all the big antiaircraft stuff was," Hawkins says—and peeled off to get him. Hawkins signaled by hand for Williams to follow him. Seeing small puffs of smoke coming from the back of Williams's plane, Hawkins determined that the main fuel cell or one of the fuel lines had been hit. A fuel leak meant the possibility of fire.
Finally, the pair reached the sky over the base in Suwon where Williams would have to crash-land. He cleared a fence and hit the end of the runway at more than 200 mph and began to slide. He clamped his foot down hard on the brakes. Flames and sparks and pieces of the plane flew off around him. He could see people running out of his way. He could see people in the Korean village at the end of the runway getting out of the way.
Woody Woodbury, another pilot, later to gain a measure of fame as a comedian and the game-show host replacing Johnny Carson on Who Do You Trust?, probably had a better view of the crash than anyone else. Williams's plane skidded to a stop no more than 60 yards away from him.
"Ted pops out, and he's moving away from the plane in a hurry," Woodbury says. "A staff car had pulled up. An old, old green Plymouth. A guy got out, a colonel, and he was holding a piece of paper. Ted goes up and salutes. The colonel salutes back and hands Ted the piece of paper." A few days later Woodbury and Williams were flying together on a transport plane. "Why'd the colonel hand you the paper?" Woodbury asked.