A Sedalia native, the namesake of nearby Whiteman Air Force Base and one of the first casualties of World War II will be honored for his sacrifice this Saturday during a wreath laying ceremony.
The 26th annual Lt. George A. Whiteman Memorial Service and Wreath Laying Ceremony will take place at 11 a.m. Saturday at Whiteman’s grave site, located in the Memorial Park Cemetery at 32nd Street and Green Ridge Road in Sedalia. U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.) will speak at the event.
“This takes place in order to honor the first causality of the Second World War, which was 2nd Lt. George A. Whitman,” said David Rouchka, wreath ceremony coordinator. “He was at Pearl Harbor trying to get his plane off the runway there, when he was shot down by the Japanese.”
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.
The news of 2nd 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.”
“He grew up on — I believe it was 24th Street. He went to Smith Cotton High School, him and his brothers did,” Rouchka said. “Then he went to the engineering school at Rolla for a while, then I’m not sure if he went into the service right after that or not, but he was pretty young when he died.”
Second Lt. Whiteman 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. For his gallantry, Whiteman was posthumously awarded 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.
Another honor was bestowed on 2nd Lt. Whiteman 14 years after his death. Gen. Nathan F. Twining, Air Force Chief of Staff, informed Mrs. Whiteman on Aug. 24, 1955, that the recently reopened Sedalia Air Force Base would be renamed Whiteman Air Force Base in tribute to her son. The dedication and renaming ceremony took place Dec. 3, 1955.
The wreath laying ceremony is conducted by the Military Affairs Committee and the Sedalia Area Chamber of Commerce. It is hosted May 17 because most of the public vacations on the traditional date of Memorial Day, the last weekend in May.
“The Military Affairs Committee and the Chamber of Commerce selected that day because many people travel on the day and we could get a bigger crowd and accommodate the surviving family members,” Rouchka said. “That’s why we traditionally do it the week before.”
For more information on 2nd Lt. George A. Whiteman and the history of Whiteman Air Force Base, visit whiteman.af.mil.