On December 7, 1941, Airman George Whiteman of Missouri was the first airborne U.S. pilot killed when Japan attacked America’s naval base on Pearl Harbor. During the military strikes, he rushed to his P-40B. His plane was hit by gunfire as it took off, causing it to crash and burn. The 2nd Lt. and Sedalia native was 22 years old when he died.
More than 2,400 Americans were killed and 1,100 were injured in the attack which marked America’s entry into World War II.
About eight years ago, Kathleen Boswell of Sedalia, was asked to help raise money by participating in a cemetery walk. Her job was to perform the part of someone with a military connection. She learned that Whiteman’s aunt, Mildred Rogers, was buried in the cemetery. Boswell decided to tell Whiteman’s story by portraying Mildred.
“It’s amazing how much of an impact you can have on people. I know I’m successful if I can see at least one person try to wipe away a tear because I’ve told George’s story so compellingly,” says Boswell. “Some of it has just essentially come from my heart. Being the aunt, I almost feel like I am George’s aunt now when I talk about how proud I am of him.”
About thirty performances later, Boswell continues to play the part of Aunt Mildred in other local events. She has learned many stories along the way about Whiteman. Boswell says Whiteman was fascinated with the Wright Brothers and developed a love of flying at an early age. She also learned of a story about Whiteman being known for reading a book while walking to school.
“He was incredibly intelligent. One of the details that I add is that while he was in grade school, he got advanced a year two different times,” says Boswell.
Whiteman went on to earn a college scholarship and attended the Rolla School of Mines (now Missouri S&T) for two years before enlisting in the service in 1939.
Whiteman Air Force Base near Knob Noster in west-central Missouri is named after the Missouri hero. Boswell says the only name under consideration for the base was Whiteman.
For his courage 75 years ago, Whiteman was posthumously awarded with 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.