Honoring Whiteman's namesake

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Brigitte N. Brantley
  • 509th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
It was a life that began simply on a farm in Missouri and ended tragically on a Sunday morning in Hawaii.

On Dec. 7, 1941, 2nd Lt. George Whiteman had just lifted off in his P-40B Warhawk to fight back against the Japanese invasion of Oahu when enemy gunfire hit his cockpit, wounding him and throwing the plane out of control.

The plane crashed and Whiteman, just 22 years old, died from his injuries. Fourteen years later, the Air Force base just 20 miles from his hometown of Sedalia was renamed Whiteman Air Force Base in his honor.

Each year, members from Whiteman and the surrounding community hold a wreath-laying ceremony to remember the sacrifice this young lieutenant made. This year marked the 25th such year.

"It's about remembering those who gave their lives so we can experience the freedoms we have today," said John Rucker, a community member who was at the original wreath-laying ceremony in May 1988.

"When we started, it was just four of us who laid a box of flowers on Whiteman's gravesite," Rucker said. "We never realized where we'd be today with this tradition and it's wonderful to see how it has continually grown."

One way Whiteman contributes to this annual tradition is by sending a flight of Airmen from the 509th Security Forces Squadron, Sedalia's "sister city," to stand as a formation throughout the ceremony.

"This is the least we could do to support Sedalia and the sacrifice Whiteman made," said Lt. Col. Christopher Neiman, 509th SFS commander. "We really appreciate being able to honor the flag and the lieutenant with our presence."

When the wreath-laying ceremonies started a quarter of a century ago, there were only a handful of attendees. At the ceremony this year, more than 150 people attended, including 25 of Whiteman's nephews, nieces, great-nephews, great-nieces, great-great-nephews and great-great-nieces.