BOSTON, July 22 (UPI) -- Fans and friends but not family gathered Monday at Fenway Park to celebrate the life and accomplishments of Boston Red Sox baseball great Ted Williams.
Billed as "Ted Williams: A Celebration of an American Hero," the tribute remembered the Hall of Famer not only for what he did on the diamond, but also his service to his country in two wars as a Marine fighter pilot as well his selfless contributions on behalf children with cancer with the Jimmy Fund charity.
"He was my hero growing up," said Bill Nowlin, author of "Ted Williams: In Pursuit of Perfection," one of hundreds of fans who showed up early at Fenway Park for the free morning segment of a two-part celebration.
"It's a day of celebration, more than a sad day," Nowlin said. "He had just such a wonderful life."
Williams died July 5 at the age of 83 following a series of strokes and congestive heart failure.
Fans were allowed in free to see the banners and larger-than-life photos adorning the famed Green Monster left field wall and elsewhere around the park.
Hanging on the famed wall was a huge photo of Williams swinging his bat and featuring the words, "The greatest Red Sox player of them all." Another giant photo showed Williams sitting in the cockpit of a Marine fighter plane, with the legend: "An American Patriot."
Above the wall was a long banner reading: "Ted Williams, an American Hero 1918-2002."
Another banner quoted the words Williams said he wanted to be remembered by, "There goes the greatest hitter who ever lived."
Fans were allowed on the field to view the pictures and to walk where Williams played.
Milestones in the career of the "Splendid Splinter" were etched on the infield dirt -- .406, his 1941 batting average, baseball's last .400 hitter, and 521, his career homerun total.
Some 10,000 white carnations formed the shape of Williams' No. 9 in left field.
"It's a memorial to Ted," longtime friend and former Red Sox teammate Johnny Pesky told WBZ radio. "When you lose someone you have affection for, it hurts. When this thing first happened, I was a basket case. I really feel bad for what has happened, but these things happen and you just have to accept them."
A second, ticketed event was scheduled for Monday evening featuring a lineup of some 50 dignitaries led by Pesky and another former teammate, Dom DiMaggio.
Among those scheduled to speak were Sen. John Glenn, who flew combat missions with Williams during the Korean War.
The Marine Corps Band was to play and a flight of Marine fighter jets was to buzz the field in the missing-man formation.
Red Sox spokesman Kevin Shea said the event was "about providing our fans the opportunity to grieve the loss of Ted and to celebrate Ted's contributions to baseball, our country and the Jimmy Fund."
Proceeds from the evening event were to go to the Jimmy Fund.
Although invited to attend, Williams' three children declined. They are involved in a controversy over what to do with the slugger's remains.
His two children by his third wife -- John Henry Williams and sister Claudia Williams -- want his remains to be cryonically preserved. His daughter by a previous marriage -- Barbara Joyce "Bobby-Jo" Ferrell -- wants the baseball legend's remains cremated, as he specified in a 1996 will.
As Pesky put it, "Let the man rest in peace."