During a wreath laying ceremony for 2nd Lt. George A. Whiteman on Saturday at Memorial Park Cemetery, U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.) reiterated the courageous actions of the aviator whose name graces the nearby Air Force base and the meaning of valor.
“On the morning of Dec. 7 when those planes came over those hillsides and dropped down in Oahu and attacked our country, he (Whiteman) was one of the first people to run to his airplane and get it off the ground to meet the enemy head on,” Hartzler said. “Sadly, he was gunned down and crashed, but he gave his all to defend the cause of freedom.”
Hartzler continued listing the medals posthumously awarded Whiteman: the Silver Star, the Purple Heart, the American Defense Medal with a Foreign Service clasp, the American Campaign Medal, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign medal with one bronze star, and the World War II Victory Medal.
Whiteman went to Smith-Cotton High School and the School of Mines in Rolla before enlisting in the U.S. Air Force. He received orders to report to Randolph Field, Texas, for training as an aviator in the spring of 1940. He was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Army Air Corps Nov. 15, 1940, and volunteered for duty in Hawaii early the following year.
According to the Whiteman Air Force Base website, as the sun rose over Oahu on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor began. Whiteman got to his P-40B aircraft at Bellows Field and had just lifted off the runway when a burst of enemy gunfire hit his cockpit, wounding him and throwing the plane out of control. The plane crashed and burned just off the end of the runway.
“I think what he embodies, are two characters that we all can draw inspiration from. Those are his dedication and his valor. That’s the legacy that he left,” Hartzler said. “He was dedicated to his county, dedicated to the course of freedom, dedicated to excellence as an aviator and willingly volunteered to serve his country.”
The news of Lt. Whiteman’s death reached his family at 10:13 p.m. Dec. 7. In an interview with the Sedalia Democrat that evening, his mother, Earlie Whiteman, said: “It’s hard to believe. It might have happened anytime, anywhere. We’ve got to sacrifice loved ones if we want to win this war.” She gave the reporter a photograph of her son sitting in an aircraft with the inscription “Lucky, lucky me.”
In 1955, Gen. Nathan F. Twining, Air Force Chief of Staff, informed Whiteman’s mother the recently reopened Sedalia Air Force Base would be renamed Whiteman Air Force Base in tribute to her son.
Eva Myers, in attendance at Saturday’s event, was there when the first ceremony was held 26 years ago.
“I think it’s just a wonderful thing for Sedalia to have someone so courageous,” Myers said. “And to enlist like he did and to get that plane in the air and try so hard, so fast. Because, it must have been a horrible shock that early in the morning. I think they dashed out in whatever they had on to get into the air to defend our country.”
The ceremony opened with an invocation by Rev. Jerry Connery of Sacred Heart Parish, followed by the posting of colors by the Smith-Cotton JROTC Color Guard. The National Anthem was sung by the JROTC female cadets.
After the placement of the wreath by surviving members of the Whiteman family, a Stars and Stripes folding Ceremony was conducted by the Sedalia VFW Post 2591 along with a gun salute. The event closed with the playing of TAPS by SCHS’s Derrick Weller.
“It’s a time when we need to remember what really was sacrificed Dec. 7 and this signifies that. And of course we are proud of our uncle,” said George Williams, nephew of George Whiteman, following the ceremony.
The ceremony is conducted by the Military Affairs Committee and the Sedalia Area Chamber of Commerce. It is held on May 17 because most of the public vacations on the traditional date of Memorial Day, the last weekend in May.
For more information on George A. Whiteman and the history of Whiteman Air Force Base visit whiteman.af.mil/.