George Allison Whiteman was born on the Wilkerson farm near Longwood, Missouri in Pettis County on October 12, 1919. His parents were John Casey, Sr. and Earlie Sanders Whiteman. John was an oil truck driver for an oil company and also served as constable for a period of time. John and Earlie had ten children which included eight boys and two girls. George was the oldest child.Â He was named after his mother's father, George Bryan Sanders, and brother, George Sanders and George Wilkerson, a close friend of George's father, . The other children born to John and Earlie were Susan, Violet, Paul, John Casey, Jr.,
Throughout his early years, George had a strong interest in World War I and especially in airplanes. He often expressed his desire to become a pilot. After his family moved to Sedalia, George attended Horace Mann Elementary School and Jefferson Elementary School, then later Martha Letts Junior High School. In 1926 at the age of seven, George's I.Q. was determined to be 128. George used his academic abilities to complete a curriculum in six years that was designed to take eight years. On September 8, 1931 he entered Smith-Cotton High School. While at Smith-Cotton, he continued a rigorous academic schedule by taking courses in English (four years), Civics, Algebra I, Plane Geometry I, Solid Geometry, Advanced Arithmetic, Advanced Algebra, Manual Training (two years), Bookkeeping I, Typing I, American History, American Problems, Chemistry I, Physics I, and Physical Education (four years). His favorite subject in school was chemistry. George also developed an insatiable appetite for reading. One of his favorite magazines was "Popular Mechanics." During his school years, his habit of reading earned him much teasing from his brothers, sisters, and friends. In fact, he could usually be found reading a book on the one-and-a-half mile walk to and from school. On several occasions, he was so engrossed in his reading that he was almost hit by a passing car. On May 23, 1935, at the age of 15, George graduated from Smith-Cotton with a rank of 22 out of a class of 218 students. While George was at Smith-Cotton, the family's address was listed as Walnut and Heard Streets.
Though the country was embroiled in the midst of the Great Depression when money was scarce, George wanted to go to college. His father was unable to provide any financial help toward his education, but George was not to be deterred. He chose to enter Rolla School of Mines in Rolla, Missouri in an attempt to get a degree in Chemical Engineering. He received a scholarship and, during his first two semesters at Rolla, he took courses in General Chemistry, General Engineering Drawing, Philosophy and Composition, Algebra, Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC), Physical Education, Qualitative Analysis, Geometry, Trigonometry and Analytical Geometry, and also attended a special lecture. In an attempt to support himself and ease his financial burdens, he accepted odd jobs and stoked furnaces. He roomed with an elderly lady in Rolla and some of his earnings went toward his room. He accepted a fifty dollar loan for tuition from his high school Trigonometry teacher, Mattie Montgomery or "Mathematical Mattie" as she was known to her students. By participating in ROTC, George was also able to receive a few more dollars. His sister, Violet, recalled that he hitchhiked home on the weekends to be with his family. She also remembers her father taking him to the edge of Sedalia and sometimes, if he was unable to get a ride, his father would drive him to Rolla. Whiteman was proud to be a freshman at Rolla. In fact, he thought the Rolla School of Mines was second in academic excellence only to The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Whiteman took exceptional pride in the green beanies that freshmen were required to wear. Although this would bring him much hazing, he didn't mind. On many occasions, he could be heard singing the Rolla engineer song which went: "I am a rambling wreck from Rolla Tech, and a hell of an engineer." After George's death at Pearl Harbor, one of his college professors wrote the family to say that Whiteman had, during an oral discussion, come up with a theory that would later be known as radar. Due to financial hardship, George was forced to discontinue his college education after his second year at Rolla.
George moved to Chicago, Illinois in 1937. There he took a job with White Castle cooking hamburgers. He was provided two meals a day in addition to the money he earned. His average salary during this time was $18 a week. His younger sister, Sue, was working as a stenographer making $5 a week. At Christmas time, Sue sent money to George in Chicago and, combining her money with his money, he bought presents for the family from both of them. Violet remembered the excitement and joy the large box brought to the family as it sat in the dining-living room. For his brothers, Marshall, Carl, and Bobby, he had bought shirts and corduroy overalls. Sue recalled he had used good taste when picking the gifts. Marshall received everything in blue to go with his eyes and platinum hair color. Carl and Bobby received dark colors to match their hair and eyes. Each child had received a toy and, of course, there was a present for his mother. Sue also received a gift of sheer hosiery, although she and George had made a prior agreement not to spend anything on each other.
George had a girlfriend, Marian, and, many times, he didn't have enough money to take her out. Consequently, they visited museums, went for walks, and had Coca Cola dates. He advised his sister, Violet, that you didn't have to spend a lot of money in order to have a good time. During this time, his sister, Sue, and her boyfriend,Â Ray Berry, moved to Chicago. George helped get Ray a job at the White Castle. George's girlfriend, Marian, helped Sue get a job as governess for the Porter family where Marian was already working as a governess. Sue remembers the good times she, George and Ray had visiting the Marshall Field Museum and other attractions in Chicago. She also said she would cook special meals for Ray, George, and herself on her days off. One story she recalls is about George's stint as a butler.. TheÂ well-to-do family. Sue and Marian worked for was throwing a dinner party and the butler failed to show. George immediately volunteered to take his place and apparently had a good time. Sue accredits his successful performance for the evening to all the Sherlock Holmes and other English books he had read. In fact, at one point, Sue found 32 thick books from the local library while cleaning his apartment. After George was killed at Pearl Harbor, the hostess of the dinner party, Mrs. Anne Porter, wrote Sue a very nice letter of sympathy about George's death. Mrs. Porter was the wife of the well-known artist Fairfield Porter and an acknowledged poet in her own right..
Shortly after Sue and Ray were married and returned to Missouri, George followed. It was at this time that he joined the Coast Artillery.Â He was now able to repay his loan to Mattie Montgomery who had helped him attend Rolla. Determining that George was underweight, the recruiters suggested he join the Army, gain some weight, and then try for pilot school. On October 20, 1939, after some consideration and still possessing a desire to become a pilot, George Allison Whiteman enlisted in the United States Army. . In one of his letters, George describes one of his first experiences in the Army. His first duty station was in Leavenworth, Kansas. When he departed Leavenworth by train for Fort Winfield Scott, California, he apparently slept through Kansas, but did see most of Colorado. In Denver, his outfit switched trains from the Union Pacific to the Denver, Rio Grande, and Western rail lines. In his letter, Whiteman was so enthralled by the scenery he was seeing in Colorado, he found it difficult to express its beauty in writing. He fell asleep in Western Colorado and, when he awoke, he was greeted by the sight of the Great Salt Lake in Utah. He claimed ". . if it hadn't been for the haze, I believe you could have seen for 20 miles in the flat." On the third day, they arrived at their destination, Fort Scott. His impression of California was that the state was "too foggy. . . and the air isn't fresh." It was on this trip that his unit got introduced to mess kits. It seems that eating with them on the train was an amusing experience, but he didn't go into the details in his letter.
His sister, Violet, had received a letter from him saying that he would visit her in Denver, but when the date came and went without his arrival, she began to wonder what had happened. Shortly thereafter, she received another letter saying, "Vi, I won't be there, in a fit of peeve I joined the Army." She never found out what the peeve was.
His letters from California center mainly on financial concerns. A letter dated December 21, 1939, talks of insurance and his promotion from Buck Private to Private First Class, increasing his monthly wages from $21 to $30 a month. It is also here that he mentioned for the first time to his battery commander about an assignment to Randolph Field, Texas. It was at Randolph that the army trained its pilots, and George was going to be able to attain something he had dreamed about all his life. He had confidence that he could also go to West Point, but his preference was flying. His letter also relates the fact that he was now considered a soldier instead of a recruit and this meant passes into town. He closed with rumors of the unit moving "everywhere - from Alaska to Panama" and the desolation of living in the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) barracks that were their home on the base.
On February 2, 1940, his sister, Sue, received another letter. In it, he apologized for not writing sooner. He had been participating in maneuvers and had been unable to write. He wrote of his ex-girlfriend, Marian. He was puzzled about the name she chose for her child. "It doesn't sound like Marian," he wrote. This letter closed with a story about the photo he enclosed. Whiteman wrote that he had grown a mustache just to prove he could and then shaved it off.
On 26 March 1940, George was appointed a Flying Cadet and was assigned to the Air Corps Training Detachment at the Ryan School of Aeronautics , Lindberg Field, California. to commence his ground school training.
A letter dated April 6, 1940, spoke of his concern for his sister, Violet. He was worried over the fact that she had fallen in love with a sick soldier. His feeling on the subject, however, was that it was none of his business. He mentioned another girlfriend, Grace, who was a fashion model and he wrote that, if he had a family, perhaps he would have something to do in the evenings. This letter states he had flown ten hours since arriving at Randolph.
In a letter dated April 24, 1940, he wrote his sister, Sue, that he hadn't heard from the model in two weeks. He also mentioned that he had received another letter from Violet, gave compliments to Sue's husband, Ray, on his ambition to fly, talked of a cross-country flight in PT RYAN trainers, night flying training, his hope to graduate flying school in November, a desire that "Hitler'd fall out of bed and break his neck," and closes with a wish for some news from home as he had not heard from them in awhile.
On 25 June 1940 GeorgeÂ reported to the Army Air Corps Primary Flying School at Randolph Field, Texas. Once there, he described his schedule as "ground school, flying planes, drill, athletics, studying, 10:00 p.m. bed check, and 6:00 a.m. reveille." He wrote that the "washout" rate in the first six weeks of training was 40%. "Washout" referred to those who failed and were then reassigned to other training programs. He said if he were to get "washed out" of flying training, he would take a discharge and go to New Mexico seeking work as he had a few prospects in that state.
In an undated letter on Lindbergh Field stationary, he talks about arriving in San Antonio, Texas on July 1st, 1940. (Probably on his way to Randolph Field.) He asked about his father and if he still worked at the Missouri State Fairgrounds. He also mentioned some pay matters and, more importantly, he stated that he had 35 hours of flying time with 15 of that being solo. ". . . I feel important!," he wrote. He closes the letter asking about Marian and her brother, Howard.
On August 16, 1940, The Sedalia Democrat ran an article that George was to take examinations for commissioning later that week. It also said that George had transferred from Fort Baker, California to the Aviation Division and Ryan Flying School at Lindbergh Field, then on to Randolph Field, Texas.
After completing the primary course of flying in September 1940, George entered the Advanced Flying School at Kelly Field, Texas. Upon completion of his course there he was so thrilled at receiving his wings he sent his mother a picture of himself in the cockpit of a planeÂ looking up at the sky labeled "Lucky, Lucky Me". He sent the same postcard picture to his two sisters with different inscriptions. The one to the older of the two sisters, Sue, was inscribed with "Hot Pilot". After graduation George was commissioned a 2nd Lt, Air Corps Reserve and was then immediately called to active duty with the Army Air Corp. He was assigned to the 55th Pursuit Squadron (F), 20th Pursuit Group (F), GHQ Air Force, Hamilton Field, California.
The end of training on November 15, 1940, and commision as 2nd Lieutenant involved an honorable discharge from the ArmyÂ and reenlistment the same day into the Army Air Corp. He had served seven months and 19 days from his time of enlistment until graduating as a pilot. His discharge papers described the young aviator as having gray eyes, light brown hair, fair complexion, and five feet nine-and-a-half inches tall.Â In January, 1941 George completed a course of instruction in Chemical Warfare for Unit Gas Officers isued by the Headquarters 1st Wing G. H. Q. lAir Force, March Field, Riverside, California.
He wrote his mother and father that he and 16 other men had volunteered for duty in Hawaii. He mentions that he would fly one of the army's best fighters, the Curtiss P-36 Hawk, to San Diego, California where they would be put on an aircraft carrier, the USS ENTERPRISE. He would then be a passenger on the carrier and, once arriving in Hawaii, would fly the plane off the carrier to the base there. In this letter, he also informs the family that he would no longer be permitted to explain in detail what he was doing. Security within the military was getting tighter.
A letter to Sue, dated February 7, 1941, says about the same thing. He alludes to the fact that he believes he made a wise choice in going to Hawaii. He knew he would have to do some overseas duty and thought it better to go to Hawaii than to Trinidad since its location was so close to England. He closes this letter with an apology for the late Christmas present.
In February, 1941, George's transfer to Hawaii took place. On 28 Feb 1941 he was assigned to the 44th Pursuit Squadron, 18th Pursuit Group stationed at Wheeler Field on Oahu Island in the Territory of Hawaii. The Eighteenth's crest and motto, "UNGUIBUS ET ROSTRO" meaning "With Talons and Beak," proudly adorned his stationery.
The last letter received by the family was postmarked April 3, 1941, from Honolulu, Hawaii. This was received in June by Susan Whiteman Berry. The contents concerned the death of an acquaintance, the location of a mutual friend at Pearl Harbor, how his station "gets on my nerves" although he preferred Hawaii over his only other alternative, Trinidad, Tobago. He wrote of taking up the sport of golf again, how even though he made more money as a lieutenant, he still owed $700.00 in debts which he was paying off $100.00 at a time. He joked that he was "going into wine, women, and song and forget about worry. Only trouble is that there aren't any women here." He closes with his address and the hopes that his friend, Howard, would write him. (According to Quirino "Joe" Olegario, who was a member of the Hawaiian National Guard and a friend of George's, George also liked to go out with him on his boat, fish and/or just hang out.)
Not having any word from George since April, Sue contacted the Red Cross. The Red Cross then contacted Whiteman and suggested in October, 1941, that he write home. Sue still has the Red Cross response. She and her husband, Ray Berry, had planned on visiting George in Pearl Harbor. She believes that the men stationed on Oahu had an inkling that something could happen and perhaps that is the reason her brother failed to respond.
In November, 1941 George moved into the newly constructed officers quartersÂ at Wheeler Field. At the time of the attack on 7 Dec 1941, George,.along with other pilots stationed at Wheeler Field, had been temporarily reassigned to Bellows Field for gunnery training. The planes available to the squadron were the P-36 and P-40. The Curtiss P-36a Hawk had been purchased by the Army Air Force in 1938 at a cost of $23,000 each. By the time of Pearl Harbor, the plane was obsolete and mostly saw service in foreign air forces as an export. The other plane was the Curtiss P-40c and d Tomahawk. This plane was equipped with an Allison V-1710-34 engine, four 50-caliber machine guns in the wings, two 30-caliber machine guns in the nose, and heavier armor plating protection for the pilot. This was the aircraft that faced the Japanese Zero Fighter on December 7, 1941.
The Japanese Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero-Sen had been designed by an American-trained engineer, Jiro Horikoshi. The plane first flew on March 19, 1939, and first saw combat on July 21, 1940, in China. It proved to be an immediate success. American General Claire Chennault took notes on the plane. He relayed this information to the military authorities in Washington, D.C. His warnings and information were ignored. No one in Washington believed or was willing to accept the fact that the Japanese had invented a superior fighter. This plane would remain supreme in the Pacific and in China until the tactics of Chennault's American Volunteer Group, "Flying Tigers," proved superior over the Japanese tactics and newer and more powerful aircraft were produced. The Zero could out-climb, ont-run, and out-maneuver the American planes that existed at that time. It was lightly armed with four 7.7 mm machine guns. It had no armor plating to protect its pilot or self-sealing fuel tanks, nor could it power dive without the fragile wings riping off.
As dawn broke over Oahu on December 7, 1941, 353 Japanese planes were winging their way toward their assigned targets. They were to attack the ships in the Harbor, Schofield Barracks, Fort Shafter, Ewa Airfield, Kaneohe Airfield, Hickam Airfield, Wheeler Airfield, and Bellows Airfield. At 7:55 a.m., the first bomb fell on Pearl Harbor. At 8:02 a.m., the Japanese attacked Wheeler Airfield. The 52 P-40s and 39 P-36s were destroyed and the base laid waste. The Japanese had begun the attack with great success.
When the bombing began, Whiteman was in his room at the Bachelor Officer's Quarters.Â He stepped out on the veranda, looked in the direction of Pearl Harbor and immediately guessed what was up. The housekeeper for the Officer's Quarters, Kathryn S. Miller, saw him rush back in and, within five minutes, he was speeding away in his car toward Wheeler Field. She noted that he had been in such a hurry that he had changed into his service uniform and not his flying suit.
At Bellows, a lone Japanese Zero strafed the field at 8:30 a.m., wounding a medical orderly. Another orderly drove a mile to the base commander's house and informed him of the attack. The commander immediately ordered the dispersal of the 20 planes stationed there that morning, only 12 of which were P-40s. Private Ray McBriarty was typical of the men at Bellows that morning. He saw the Japanese plane attack, incorrectly assumed it was an Army AT-6 trainer performing an exercise, then continued on his way to church. Corporal Kolom sat under the wing of a plane writing a letter home. He looked up just in time to see nine Zeros led by Lieutenant Shigematsu, the fighter pilot leader, attack a B-17. The B-17 was one of 14 bombers expected from the mainland that day. Upon arriving, they found themselves in the midst of the attack. This particular B-17 was piloted by Lieutenant Robert Richards. Being practically out of fuel, he decided to make an emergency landing on the 2600-foot runway at Bellows Field. The nine Japanese planes flying in V formation took turns shooting at the lumbering bomber as it came in. Three of the men aboard the plane were wounded, but Richards managed to make a safe landing. At this point, Hickam Field notified the tower at Bellows Field that an attack was under progress. The time was 9:00 a.m. The next events took place all at once.
George sped to Bellows Field being strafed along the way. His sister Sue, remembered seeing his car after it was shipped back to her father. As badly as the car was mutilated with bullet holes she couldn't understand how George had survived the trip to Bellows. Various eye witness accounts describe the action. One of these was published in the Sedalia Democrat, Dec 5, 1965 issue. A Cpl. Harold Kolom was sitting under the wing of a plane writing a letter to his girlfriend when the attack on Bellows Field started. According to Kolom's memory he "...raced to a P-40 where a pilot [Lt. Hans Christensen from California] wasÂ in his plane as a Zero strafed it,. and tried to pull him out, when another plane came down he dived under the plane for protection. Another pilot, Lt. George Whiteman, leaped into his P-40 and started it down the runway. But before he could take off, the attackers ganged up on him, leaving his plane a blazing wreck at the waters edge. Kolom, who was member of the same squadron, was also quoted as saying, "Whiteman was a big brother to the younger men, most of whom were away from home for the first time. He worked on the planes with the ground crews, and was always ready to listen to the men's personal problems. When his plane was hit, the rest of the squadron left their hiding places and, forgetting their fears, raced thought the rain of bullets to help him." To Kolom, it was the most courageous act of friendship he would experience during the war. "But when the men reached the plane, Whiteman was dead.", finished Kolom.
Charles King was busy loading ammunition into the P-40s. He was one of the few to heed the warning of Major L. D. Waddington, the base commander, to ready the planes. He saw Whiteman pull up in his car. Whiteman turned off the ignition, jumped out of his car, and raced to one of the P-40s. He told the men loading ammunition into the guns to get off the wing and he would fly the plane as it was. He started the engine and, with the plane's engine still cold, taxied out onto the runway. In fact, Whiteman had been so quick to leave that the armorers did not have time to install the gun cowlings back on the wings. As George began his takeoff run, he was immediately spotted by two Japanese Zeros. At least two, if not three, enemy planes swooped down. He managed to take off and got approximately 50 feet into the air when the Zeros opened fire on him.
Whiteman attempted to turn inside the Japanese planes on his tail as he had been taught to do when under attack during takeoff. The writers of the air combat tactics book had ignored the warnings about the Zero, and the P-40 certainly wasn't capable of outflying the Zero. The P-40 was too slow and unmaneuverable to succeed in this tactic. The Japanese fighters opened fire hitting the engine, wings, and cockpit. The plane burst into flames. Whiteman was apparently still alive and tried to make a belly-landing on the beach north of the field. Instead, he crashed and the plane was consumed by flames.
The attack ended around 10:00 a.m. that morning. The Japanese had managed to sink or seriously damage 18 ships, destroy 188 planes, and damage 159 other planes. The Navy had 710 men wounded and 2008 killed. The Marines had 69 wounded and 109 killed. Civilian casualties were 35 wounded and 68 killed. The Army had 365 wounded and 218 killed, including George Whiteman. Fifteen Medals of Honor, 60 Navy Crosses, five Distiniguished Service Crosses, and 65 Silver Stars for acts of valor were awarded. The Japanese lost 29 planes and 100 men.
The Adjutant General in Washington, D.C. was sent the following telegram: "Following Second Lts Air Corps Res Killed in Action Seven Dec at Bellowsfield (sic) COLON Naught Dash Three Nine Nine Six Eight Three STOP Nearest Relative John C Whiteman Six Two Three W Twenty Fourth Street Sedalia Missouri COMMA Relationship Unknown COLON Hans C. Christiansen Naught Dash Four Naught Six Four Eight Two Nearest Relatives Mr. and Mrs. Peter C. Christiansen One Naught One Court Street Woodland Calif Father and Mother STOP Relatives Both Officers Notified By Radio STOP Further Details Later. Short 8:22 PM"
On the evening of December 7, 1941, at 10:13 p.m., Mrs. Whitemen received a telegram informing her of her son's death. It read: "Second Lt. George A Whiteman killed in action this date. STOP Further information will reach you from War Dept Washington. Sincere Sympathy Short C. G. Ft Shafter, TH 10:10 p.m." TH was the abbreviation for Territory of Hawaii. D. Kelly Scruton of The Sedalia Democrat interviewed Mrs. Whiteman that evening. When asked about the telegram, she said "It's hard to believe. There might have been a mixup, it all happened so quickly. There's nothing we can do but wait further news from Washington." She added, "It might have happened anytime, anywhere. We've got to sacrifice loved ones if we want to win this war." She also gave Scruton the photograph of George sitting in his aircraft with the inscription, "Lucky, lucky me." This photo has become known internationally and is frequently used in articles referring to Whiteman.
The second telegram was sent from the War Department on December 8, 1941. It read, "Deeply regret to inform you official information received your son Second Lieutenant George Allison Whiteman Air Corps killed in action December seventh in Hawaii STOP No decision now possible as to when the remains can be returned STOP You will be further advised when shipment is contemplated. Adams The Adjutant General."
Second Lieutenant George Allison Whiteman has been recognized as one of the first known American airman to become a casualty of World War II and the first from Missouri. He was 22 years old. For his brief part in the war, Whiteman was awarded the Silver Star for gallantry, the Purple Heart for wounds resulting in his death, the American Defense Medal for joining the military between 1939 and 1941 with a foreign service clasp for a length of service outside the United States, the American Campaign Medal, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with one bronze star for being in the Central Pacific Campaign between December 7, 1941, and December 6, 1943, and the World War II Victory Medal for service between December 7, 1941, and December 31, 1946. The Silver Star is our nation's second highest posthumous award.
2nd Lt. George Allison Whiteman was temporarily buried on the beach where he died. On December 9, 1941, his body was removed from the beach and reinterredÂ in Plot 4, Row F, Grave 30 at Schofield Barracks Cemetery, Schofield Barracks, Territory of Hawaii. Buried on his left in Grave 30 was Second Lieutenant Louis G. Moslener, of the 85th Reconnaissance. Buried on his right in Grave 29 was Second Lieutenant Hans C. Christiansen who died with him at Bellows Field,Â of the U.S. Army Air Corps 44th Pursuit Squadron. At his parent's request, George's body was returned to his hometown, Sedalia, Missouri, in 1947.
Memorial services honoring George in Sedalia were conducted on Sunday, December 28, 1941, at the East Sedalia Baptist Church at 2:30 p.m. The Reverend Walter P. Arnold, pastor of the church, paid tribute not only to Lieutenant Whiteman, but also to other Pettis County youths who had lost their lives in this great conflict.