It's been three years since the last Memorial Wreath Laying Ceremony was held at Memorial Park Cemetery honoring former Sedalian 2nd Lt. George A. Whiteman.

This time marked the 34th such event that featured descendants of Whiteman, personnel from Whiteman AFB (which is named after George), local dignitaries, a moving speech from Rep. Brad Pollitt, R-52, Sedalia, and a fast-moving squadron of four T-38s from Whiteman that displayed the missing man formation.

The ceremony, sponsored by the Military Affairs Committee of the Sedalia Area Chamber of Commerce, honors Lt. Whiteman's life, service, and ultimate sacrifice, and who was the first American to die in battle when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. Whiteman was 22.

Whiteman lived in a small house at 623 West 24th in Sedalia while attending the Missouri School of Mines college in Rolla. He was a graduate of Smith-Cotton High School.

Richard Andresen served as emcee for the solemn ceremony, which deems applause as inappropriate.

Chris Gray, pastor of Encounter Church, provided prayer, while the Whiteman AFB Honor Guard Detail posted the colors. This was followed by the singing of the National Anthem by Octavier Robinson.

In his speech, Rep. Pollitt, who represents part of Pettis and Johnson counties in the 52nd District, called Whiteman an American hero. He compared Whiteman to the 12 disciples in the Bible, “who were ordinary men that were asked to perform extraordinary tasks.”

Whiteman was ultimately awarded the Silver Star, the Purple Heart, the American Defense Medal with a Foreign Service clasp, the American Campaign Medal, the Agionic Campaign Medal with one bronze star and a World War II Victory Medal.

“Eighty years later, we're here today to raise his name in remembrance of those that served in the Armed Forces, and for those who made the ultimate sacrifice for families just like yours and mine,” Pollitt said.

Whiteman “died for not only our freedoms, but for the cause of freedom around the globe,” Pollitt said. He and other “fighting soldiers made sacrifices so that we can live free in the greatest country on Earth. We quietly and ceremoniously pause to say thank you for a man, who in his short life of 22 years, created a legacy that will live on forever in American military history.”

Following Pollitt's speech, two members of the Whiteman family placed a large red, white and blue wreath on Whiteman's grave. Dr. Glen Berry was scheduled to place the wreath, but at the last minute, nominated two other family members to perform the task.

The Whiteman AFB Honor Guard Detail then provided a 9-gun salute (three volleys by three service members).

Kevin Hawks then played Taps on the bugle.

This was followed a few minutes later by the sudden appearance of a quartet of T-38 jets from Whiteman AFB, one of which split from the group at the last second to show the missing man formation in the gray skies. The ceremony also coincided with Armed Forces Day.

The 2020 and 2021 Whiteman ceremony was canceled due to the COVID pandemic. It has been at least four years since the last T-38 flyover.

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