Because there were no battles, no actual war it is difficult to define the beginning of the Cold War. There was only two opposing sides, the United States and the Soviet Union and each built a stockpile of nuclear weapons. The United States during the 1950s developed and deployed several types of delivery systems for attacking the Soviet Union with nuclear weapons. By the 1960s, three such systems emerged as the basis of strategic deterrence:
- long-range manned aircraft carrying nuclear bombs
- land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads,
- nuclear-powered submarines armed with nuclear ballistic missiles.
Each system became one independent leg of what was called the Strategic Triad. Any one of the three alone was powerful enough to deter attack. Because no enemy could realistically hope to destroy all three at the same time, the Triad seemed almost invulnerable.
In the early 1950s, the Air Force and the Strategic Air Command (SAC) began expanding their network of bases to carry out their mission. New aircraft were being added to the Air Force inventory and new bases were needed.
SAC officials expressed particular interest in a deserted base named Sedalia Army Air Field because of its central location. Sedalia Army Air Field became Sedalia Air Force Base (AFB) and was assigned to SAC's Second Air Force.
In 1955 the Air Force decided to rename Sedalia Air Force Base. It would be renamed in honor of Second Lieutenant George A. Whiteman. George Whiteman, a native Sedalian, was the first air casualty of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
From 1955 to 1960, the 340th Bombardment Wing played a key role in SAC's mission of strategic deterrence. Its men and women were on the front line of the nation's strategic defense. However, as Whiteman entered the '60s, its mission shifted from aircraft to SAC's newest weapon system, the Minuteman Intercontinental Ballistic Missile.
A New Mission 1987 - Today
Nearing the end of the cold war, Missouri’s U.S. Congressman Ike Skelton announced in the late 1980’s that the Department of Defense had selected Whiteman AFB as the first home of the Air Force's newest bomber, the B-2 Advanced Technology Bomber. Finally, in 1991 after almost 10 years of difficult negotiations, the United States and the Soviet Union signed the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START). It would take the 340th Bomb Wing until 1995 to inactivate all the missiles. In the meantime the first B-2 Stealth Bomber arrived. Whiteman's current mission -- the B-2 Stealth Bomber -- is a dramatic leap forward in technology and represents a major milestone in the U.S. bomber modernization program. The B-2 brings massive firepower to bear, in a short time, anywhere on the globe through previously impenetrable defenses.
Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, has often been called the Air Force installation of the future. Time and time again in its history, Whiteman has always played an integral role in the Air Force. The 509th Bomb Wing's slogan, 'Proud of Our Past, Poised for the Future-Follow Us,' is also true for Whiteman. From the quiet soaring of the World War II era gliders to the thundering roar of the B-47s and KC-97s to the silent vigil of the Minuteman II, Whiteman has played host to a succession of America's most important weapons systems. We owe a great debt of gratitude to our predecessors - the former residents of Whiteman. They not only made many sacrifices but they left us a proud and uncommon heritage. I think it is particularly appropriate that we remember this legacy and let it be a guiding light as the epoch of the B-2 Advanced Technology Bomber dawns over Whiteman.
--RONALD C. MARCOTTE, Brig Gen, USAF 509th Bomb Wing Commander
The Legacy of George Whiteman
On Sunday, December 7, 1941, Lieutenant George A. Whiteman made the supreme sacrifice. Lt. Whiteman died during a heroic attempt to take off in a P-40 pursuit plane and fight enemy aircraft staging a surprise attack against American naval and air bases in Hawaii. For his valiant efforts, the young Sedalia, Missouri, native was posthumously awarded the Silver Star, our Nation’s second highest award.
George Allison Whiteman was born the eldest of ten children. His parents, John Casey and Earlie Sanders Whiteman sent him to Horace Mann and Jefferson Elementary Schools, Martha Letts Junior High School, and Smith Cotton High School where he graduated at the age of 15.
Following high school graduation, Whiteman enrolled in the Rolla School of Mines in Rolla, Missouri, with aspirations of earning a degree in Chemical Engineering. After two years, he quit school and moved to Chicago where he took a job as a hamburger cook at White Castle.
In 1939, Whiteman returned to Missouri and joined the Coast Artillery. After further consideration, he then decided to join the Army. Even as a young boy he had always had the desire to become a pilot so he asked his battery commander about an assignment to Randolph Field, Texas, where he would train to be an Army aviator. Eventually, he received orders to report to Randolph Field where he would realize his lifelong dream.
Soon, he volunteered for duty in Hawaii. Whiteman informed his family that he would fly his aircraft, the Lucky, Lucky Me, to San Diego where he would then be put on an aircraft carrier. The last letter received by the family was postmarked April 3, 1941, from Honolulu. After that, security concerns kept him from providing any further insight regarding his mission at Wheeler Field.
Although Whiteman was assigned at Wheeler Field, his squadron also had planes at Bellows Field on the northeast coast of Oahu. When dawn broke over Oahu on December 7th, 1941, 353 Japanese Zero planes winged their way towards their as-signed targets. They were to attack the ships in the harbor, Schofield Barracks, Fort Schafter, Ewa Field, Kaneohe Field, Hickam Field, Wheeler Field, and Bellows Field. At 7:55 a.m. the first bomb fell on Pearl Harbor. At 8:02 a.m., the Japanese attacked Wheeler Field. The fifty-two P-40s and thirty-nine P-36s were destroyed and the base was virtually demolished.
As the bombing began, Whiteman was in his room at the Bachelor’s Officers’ quarters. He stepped out on the veranda, looked in the direction of Pearl Harbor, and immediately guessed what was up. White-man drove the twenty-five miles to Wheeler Field. Upon arriving and seeing the destruc-tion (he had no planes to fly), he raced over to Bellows Field. It was 8:30 a.m. Whiteman jumped out of the ve-hicle and ran to one of the P-40s where some men were loading am-munition into the guns. He told them to get off the wing and he would fly the plane as was. He started the engine and taxied out to the runway with the engine still cold. 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. He began his takeoff run and was immediately spotted by two Japanese Zeros. He managed to take off and get approximately 50 feet into the air when the Zeros opened fire on him. He attempted to turn inside the two Zeros on his tail; however, the P-40 was too slow and cumbersome to suc-ceed. The Japanese hit the engine, wings, and cockpit and the P-40 burst into flames. Whiteman was apparently still alive and he tried to make a belly landing on the beach north of the field. Instead, he crashed and the plane burned. At this point, several witnesses to the crash raced towards the plane in an attempt to rescue Whiteman. However, when they arrived at the crash site, Lieutenant Whiteman was dead.
Back home when the Whiteman family heard the news of Pearl Harbor, all they could do was hope George was out of harms way. However, it was not to be. Late in the evening of December 7, a telegram came. It stated simply “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. Later in the night, Mrs. Whiteman was interviewed by a reporter from the Sedalia Democrat. Her words expressed a mothers hope and at the same time, a patriots love of her country. 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 for further news from Washington.” Then she added, “It could have happened any-where, anytime. We’ve got to sacrifice loved ones if we want to win this war.” During the December 3, 1955 dedication ceremony of the newly named Whiteman Air Force Base (in which Mrs. Whiteman was a guest), the 340th Bombardment Wing adopted her words as their motto “Anywhere, Anytime”.
October 16 George Allison Whiteman is born in Pettis County, Missouri
May George Whiteman graduates Smith Cotton High School
George attends the School of Mines, Rolla Missouri
George Whiteman moves to Chicago
World War II begins
October 20 Enlisted Coast Artillery
March 26 Transferred to Army Air Corp
November 15 - Commissioned 2nd Lieutenant Army Corp Reserves
February 21 arrives in Oahu Hawaii, assigned to the 44th Pursuit Squadron, Wheeler Field
December 7 Lt. George Whiteman dies during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
August 6 Sedalia Glider Base officially open
November 12 base renamed Sedalia Army Air Field.
August 14 World War II ends
September 18 the United States Air Force is created as a separate and
equal branch of the U.S. Armed Forces
October 31 George Whiteman’s body returns home to Sedalia and is entered into Memorial Park Cemetary
December 14 Sedalia Army Air Field closes
August 1 Sedalia Army Air Field becomes Sedalia Air Force Base (AFB)
October 20 the 340 Bomb Wing is activated
September 23 Notification of the selection of a new name arrived from the Air Force. Sedalia AFB will be re-named in honor of Second Lieutenant George A. Whiteman.
October 1 The base is officially renamed
December 3 The official dedication ceremony Sedalia Air Force Base was
renamed Whiteman Air Force Base.
June Air Force officials selected the base to be the location of SAC's fourth Minuteman missile wing -- the 351st Strategic Missile Wing
February The new missile wing was activated
January 5 Missouri U.S. Congressman Ike Skelton announced the Department of Defense had selected White-man AFB as the first home of the Air Force's newest bomber, the B-2 Advanced Technology Bomber.
September 1 SAC changed the wing's name to 509th Bomb Wing
June 1 When the Air Force disestablished SAC. Concurrently, the 509th became part of the newly created Air Combat Command.
December 17 The Spirit Of Missouri Arrives - The 509th Bomb Wing's first B-2 Spirit of Missouri arrives at Whiteman
July 31 Missiles are inactivated under provisions of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty
July 14 The Spirit of America Arrives - The twenty-first and final B-2 Spirit of America, arrives at Whiteman AFB, Missouri.
Whiteman Heritage Trivia
a) Sedalia Glider Base
b) Warrensburg Army Air Base
c) Knob Noster Army Air Base
2) Why was the name changed in the 1950’s?
a) to honor President Truman’s cousin
b) to honor Missourians who died in WWI
c) to honor the man believed to be the
first air casualty at Pearl Harbor
3) What was the primary mission of the Base when it was established?
a) a prisoner of war camp
b) an officer training base
c) a glider pilot training base
4) What was George Whiteman’s dream?
a) to visit Hawaii
b) to become a pilot
c) to become a general
5) Upon being notified of her son’s death, what was Mrs. Whiteman’s response?
a) “Why did it have to be my George”
b) “It could have happened anywhere, anytime.”
c) God bless his soul.
6) Where was George Whiteman born and raised?
a) Knob Noster
7) What is the annual economic impact resulting from Whiteman Air Force Base?
a) near $1 million
b) under $100 million
c) over $400 million
8) What is the primary mission of Whiteman Air Force Base today?
a) home of the B-2 bombers
b) missile system headquarters
c) glider pilot training base
9) How many B-2’s are stationed at Whiteman Air Force Base?
10) For what feature is the B-2 famous?
a) its stealthiness
b) its bat like appearance
c) its gas mileage
Bonus) How did George Whiteman sign a ‘now famous’ photograph that he sent to his family?
a) “Look at me now in uniform!”
b) “Lucky Lucky Me”
c) "From your loving son, GW"
With special thanks to the Whiteman Family
and Whiteman Air Force Base Historian