A photo of Lt. Whiteker in his flight suit
(above) and his 8th grade (1932-33) report card from Sunrise School
(below), two artifacts saved from near oblivion at an estate sale.
Recently Dan Clifford of Sunrise wrote to me asking if I would like some
interesting letters to add to www.HarrisonCountyKy.US. Dan had a
scrapbook of World War II memorabilia which once belonged to Mrs. Joella
(Whiteker) Bramel (1914-1993). It had since been passed on to other
family members after her death, and was part of an estate auction when
Dan’s brother Ben recognized it for what it was, before it was almost
scrapbook contained newspaper clippings, photographs, and letters, 26 of
which were written by Sunrise native 1st Lt. Benjamin Rees Whiteker (Joella
Bramel’s brother) when he was in training and in the service overseas
with the Army Air Force in the Pacific during World War II.
has had these letters typed up and the texts will soon be available for
www.HarrisonCountyKy.US/WW2/. The contents of the scrapbook almost
tell the story of Lt. Whiteker’s life and career without the need for
any elaboration, and so, other than the brief bio presented below and
some captions, almost all the material presented in these four pages has
been taken directly from Lt. Whiteker’s writings and memorabilia.
course, Lt. Whiteker’s story is just one of the many hundreds that have
and could be told by the soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen from
Harrison County who served during World War II. If you want to learn
more about their stories, be sure to visit the Cynthiana-Harrison County
Museum . . . and be sure to ask for Harold Slade.
Growing Up in Sunrise
Benjamin Rees Whiteker (b. August 15, 1920) was the son of Joseph Desha
Whiteker (1883-1958) and Mollie (Arnold) Whiteker (1891-1976), of
Sunrise in the northern part of Harrison County. In addition to
Whitekers and Arnolds, his pedigree was populated by Kings and Mullens,
Adams and Lemons, and Whalens and Juetts, all of whom had settled and
lived in the northern hill country of Harrison County, as well as in
neighboring Pendleton County, for at least a century before his Ben’s
birth. Most were successful farmers, of moderate means and politics,
with a sprinkling of a livestock trader here and a blacksmith there . .
. plus a lot of homemakers who tried to keep their husbands honest!
went to the local school and graduated from Sunrise High when he was but
sixteen-years-old, the valedictorian of his class. Georgetown College
was next on his agenda. Fraternities tried to distract him from his
studies, but school was a “snap.” He once said that he would just as
well “like to stay at home and raise tobacco and be with everybody
around Sunrise and be a clod hopper.” After Georgetown College he took
courses in refrigeration and air conditioning and landed a good job
making machine gears at the Frigidaire plant of General Motors in
was inducted into military service as an Aviation Cadet at Ft Harrison,
just outside of Indianapolis, but he wasn’t the first of his family to
join the ranks. His brother, Fred Desha Whiteker left April 9, 1942,
just four months after Pearl Harbor, and his brother, Lewis Russell,
also served with Uncle Sam.
The Missions of Lt. Whiteker & His Crew
HEADQUARTERS 13TH, AAF, SOUTHWEST PACIFIC – Lt. B.R. Whiteker, R.D.
2, Cynthiana, a B-24 Liberator pilot in the 13th AAF, bombed his
first big-city target when he flew in the opening land-based strike
against Nichols and Nielson airdromes, Manila.
An old dream came true for Whiteker and his fellow fliers in the
“jungle air force” when they passed over Manila to pound the big
airdromes on the outskirts of town. In more than two years of combat
in three Pacific theaters of war, the 13th AAF previously had never
sighted a large town or city.
Targets assigned for destruction by the “Fightin’ 13th’s” squadrons
have included the powerful strongholds built up by the Japs on
conquered jungle islands. Lt. Whiteker’s outfit, the Bomber Barons,
participated in 13th AAF campaigns that neutralized Guadalcanal, the
northern Solomons, Bougainville, Rabaul, Kavieng, New Guinea, Truk,
Yap, Balikpapan and Tarakan in Borneo, the Netherlands East Indies
and the Philippines.
A complete pattern of direct hits made the two Manila airdromes
temporarily useless in the opening raid by Liberators. That, said
Lt. Whiteker, was a thrill – but the biggest thrill was the sight of
Manila with its streets, racetracks, yacht club and homes.
All the names of the eleven men in this photograph are known.
Their names, in alphabetical order, are: Staff Sergeant Edwin C.
Austin of Tennessee, S/Sgt. Leo R. Bender of New York, S/Sgt.
Howard S. Browman of Illinois, 2nd Lt. Robert A. Nelson of
Illinois, S/Sgt. Rocco Piligno of New Jersey, S/Sgt. Edmund R.
Serrano of Missouri, Flight Officer James E. Shallenberger of
California, F/Or August A. Stasio of New York, S/Sgt. Richard L.
Strickland of Texas, and 1st Lieutenant Benjamin R. Whiteker.
Only Whiteker (upper right) and Sgt. Piligno (front row, next to
last) have been identified. All were listed as "missing in
action" and their names were engraved on the Tablets of the
Missing at Manila American Cemetery in the Philippines. This
photo was almost thrown away after an estate sale.
A Letter Home
In July 2005 the
U.S. Postal Service issued a 20-stamp “American Advances in
Aviation” commemorative set. One of the stamps featured a
B-24, the same type of plane Lt. Whiteker piloted. The
plane was “designed as a heavy bomber, [and] the
Consolidated B-24 Liberator-with its great range and
payload/cargo capacity proved highly versatile during WWII.
High-lift wing airfoils and retractable ‘roller-type’ bomb
bay doors were B-24 innovations.”
free to soldiers during World War II, and the postmarked
envelopes of Lt. Whiteker’s letters document his travels.
He commented once that his letters home seemed little more
than “notices of change of address” as he was sent from one
training facility to another, before his assignment to the
Pacific Theater and earning an APO address. One can only
imagine the number of crossed out entries in the address
books back home!
From Air Cadet or
Pvt. Whiteker in 1943:
Indiana (Letter #2)
Wichita, Wichita, Kansas (4, 5, 6, & 7)
Texas. (8,9, 10, & 11)
Vernon, Texas (12)
Kansas (13, 14, & 15)
From Lt. Whiteker
From Lt. Whiteker
in 1945 via his San Francisco APO address:
East Indies (20)
Islands (21, 22, 23, & 24)
(25, 26, & 27))
The following interesting letter was number 26 out of 27 letters from
Lt. Whiteker and was addressed to his sister and brother-in-law, Mr. &
Mrs. Robert and Joella (aka Bobby) Bramel at 143 Daniels Street,
Lt. B.R. Whiteker, 0-718815,
394th B. Sqd N. (H), 5th B. Gp.,
A.P.O. 719, c/o P.M., S.F., Calif.
Mar. 25, ’45,
Not doing much today; just sitting around taking things easy.
Didn’t fly today so went to church this morning.
This being Palm Sunday the Chaplain did very well I thought. Next
Sunday is Easter. I’ve never seen time pass so fast. But in my case
I haven’t been doing much writing the last couple of weeks. I’ve
been flying almost every day.
I have 28 missions so far; so I’m not doing so badly.
In the last week I’ve received 3 Log Cabins & one
Democrat. Also got one package from home. But no other pkgs.
Haven't come thru yet. But I look for them to start coming thru in a
I saw a good stage show the other nite. Irving Berlin’s “This Is
The Army.” It was really good. I sat thru it in the rain, and, as a
result, have a cold.
It was an all soldier cast. And Irving Berlin was here in person
and sang several of his songs and some he’d written since he came over
here. I sure enjoyed every minute of it.
I don’t think I’ll be getting a rest leave to Sidney, Aus. Since
we’re getting so far away from Aus. But as a result I might get home
quicker. So either way is O.K. by me.
There’s a village or town here on the island and in it is an old
rock church or monastery that is 350 yrs. old. It’s really a thing of
interest and although the Japs used it they left it intact. These
natives are devout Catholics.
Did I tell you that I was one of the first planes over Manila &
Corregidor. Heard about Col. Rees but didn’t know it was him. I also
was in raids on Nichols Fld., Clark Fld., Nelson Fld., Grace-Park
Airborne & Canute Island. Things were pretty hot around there for a
Guess Bob got past the draft O.K. They sure cleaned out Har. Co.
the last two mos.
I hear from “D.” & Ruth & the folks quite often.
Well, will quit for now. Write anytime.
NOTE: Letter was edited only slightly for punctuation, but without
Lost at Sea
the Air Medal (above) and the Purple Heart (below). “Did I tell you I
got the Air Medal for ‘Meritorious achievement et cetera, et cetera,’”
Ben wrote in March, 1945. The Purple Heart was awarded posthumously (His
Air Medal had an oak leaf cluster attached, which is not shown here).
An undated newspaper clipping, perhaps from the Log Cabin, gives
the details of a letter that Lt. Whiteker’s parents received from Pat J.
Patterson, Major, Air Corps, Commanding, 394th Bombardment Squadron, in
regard to the death of their son:
On April 30, 1945, our
Squadron took off from Guiuan Air Strip, Samar Island, Philippine Group,
for a combat bombing mission on Davao, Mindanao Island, Philippine
Group. The flight to, and over the target, was successful. After we had
completed dropping our bombs, we proceeded toward Morotai Island in the
Molucca Group, where we planned to land.
approximately thirty miles from Morotai Island, near Roae Island, flying
in our usual Squadron formation, when two of the airplanes in the
formation, one of which your son was flying in as Pilot, collided. The
collision damaged both planes severely, causing them to crash into the
ocean immediately. There were no survivors on either plane, and only one
of the bodies was recovered after a thorough search had been made by
surface craft and low flying search planes. It is believed that death
It was also reported that the Whitekers also received the following
letter from George C. Kenney, General, United States Army, Commanding,
Headquarters, Far East Air Forces:
I have made inquiries
regarding the death of your son in response to your letter of June 2.
Lt. Whiteker was the pilot of one of the two B-24s which collided over
Roae Island, off Morotai Island, on the 30th of April last. Both
airplanes were completely destroyed, and there were no survivors. The
body of Flight Officer Arthur B. Sobol, navigator, was the only one
recovered and he was buried at Morotai. I am deeply sorry to be the
bearer of such bad news, Mrs. Whiteker, but I feel sure that you will
prefer to have the whole story and to know that Lt. Whiteker must have
been killed instantly in the crash and did not suffer.
Major Patterson’s comments served as a fitting eulogy for Lt. Whiteker:
During the four and one
half months that your son served with this Squadron as Pilot, he
performed his duties in a highly exemplary manner. At all times he
maintained a high spirit, both in extra activities within the Squadron
and in the actual performance of his duties. His loyalty and devotion
to duty reflected highest credit to himself and the armed forces, and
served as an inspiration to all associated with him. On behalf of the
Officers and Enlisted Men, I wish to extend deepest sympathy for the
sacrifice you have made, for I well understand the pride you had in your
son. Although we cannot share parental feeling, we keenly feel the loss
of a fine Officer.
Whiteker had completed over forty missions and was awarded the Air Medal
with Oak Leaf Cluster and the Purple Heart. Although his remains were
never found, his name is engraved upon the Tablets of the Missing at
Manila American Cemetery in the Philippines and on Harrison County's
World War II memorial on Cynthiana's Courthouse Square.
To obtain a
version of the texts below or to see see the
issue of the Harrison Heritage News, just click on the link.