On November 18, 1952, Williams was flying the F9F Panther – the US Navy’s first jet fighter – on a mission during the Korean War.
He took off from the aircraft carrier USS Oriskany, which was operating with three other carriers in a task force in the Sea of Japan, also known as the East Sea, 100 miles off the coast of North Korea.
Williams, then age 27, and three other fighter pilots were ordered on a combat air patrol over the most northern part of the Korean Peninsula, near the Yalu River, which separates North Korea from China. To the northeast is Russia, then part of the Soviet Union, which supported North Korea in the conflict.
As the four US Navy jets flew their patrol, the group’s leader suffered mechanical problems and with his wingman, headed back to the task force off the coast.
That left Williams and his wingman alone on the mission.
Then, to their surprise, seven Soviet MiG-15 fighter jets were identified heading toward the US task force.
“They just didn’t come out of Russia and engage us in any way before,” Williams said in a 2021 interview with the American Veterans Center.
Wary commanders in the task force ordered the two US Navy jets to put themselves between the MiGs and the US warships.
While doing this, four of the Soviet MiGs turned toward Williams and opened fire, he recalled.
He said he fired on the tail MiG, which then dropped out of the four-plane Soviet formation, with Williams’ wingman following the Soviet jet down.
At that point, US commanders on the carrier ordered him not to engage the Soviets, he said.
“I said, ‘I am engaged,’” Williams recalled in the interview.
Williams said he also knew that because the Soviet jets were faster than his, if he tried to break off they’d catch and kill him. Read the rest of this entry »