Missouri hero and fallen pilot 2nd Lt. George Whiteman was the first of eight boys in his family to join the military. His life was cut short on December 7, 1941 when Japan attacked the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor. Whiteman, 22, was the first airborne pilot to lose his life that day when enemy fire shot through the cockpit of his P-40B Warhawk, causing his plane to burst into flames and plunge.

Whiteman’s niece, Gayle Kent of Azle, Texas tells Missourinet that her uncle was a natural-born leader.

2nd Lt. George Whiteman (Photo courtesy of Gayle Kent)

“Mom and Uncle George were good big siblings,” says Kent. “In other words, they looked out for their little brothers and their little sisters. He and mom were kind of grandma’s 1st Lieutenants taking care of those younger kids.”

Kent’s mother, Susan Whiteman, was one of two girls in the family. The other one was Violet.

Kent says her Uncle George inspired his seven brothers to join the military.

“They all were crazy about their older brother,” says Kent. “He was good to them.”

Some of the Whiteman boys struggled to get the military to let them join, including George.

Despite flipping burgers at a White Castle restaurant in Chicago, Whiteman was underweight and could not enlist in the Army Air Corps. He was fascinated with planes and wasn’t going to go down without a fight. A recruiter suggested that he join the Army, bulk up and then try for pilot school. Shortly after, he earned a pair of wings in the Army Air Corps Reserve.

His younger brother, Carl, later followed in his brother’s footsteps and joined the Air Force. Carl changed his birthdate and enlisted before he turned 17. When the military discovered he wasn’t old enough, he was allowed to continue to serve because his IQ test scores were so high.

Bombing of Pearl Harbor (Photo courtesy of Gayle Kent)

Whiteman’s brother, Casey, wanted to enlist immediately after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. He tried to enlist but his eyesight was not good enough. Casey Whiteman recruited the help of one of his brothers to design a scheme that would get Casey into uniform.

“One of the younger brothers, I’m thinking it was Lee, went in first, memorized the eye chart, came back out and taught it to Casey. Casey went in without his glasses, was able to pass because he memorized that eye chart,” says Kent. “I guess once he got in, he was good enough and they kept him. He was in the Army Corps of Engineers.”

Casey Whiteman served in WWII and the Korean War.

That’s not where the scheming ended for the Whiteman boys. Lee Whiteman also lied about his age and joined when he was 15. He was a career Marine and served in WWII.

Robert and Marshall Whiteman also served in the Marines. Marshall Whiteman and the rest of his unit were killed in action in 1953 during the Korean War.

Paul Whiteman served in the Coast Guard during WWII and brother Eugene joined the Army. Eugene Whiteman was stationed in Korea with the 67th Division.

The Whiteman family grew up in west-central Missouri’s Sedalia.