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Lackland Airman has ties to Pearl Harbor hero

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas -- His connection to a World War II hero isn’t by blood, but it’s a proud connection nonetheless to Airman 1st Class Hunter Fugitt.

Airman 1st Class Hunter Fugitt of the 37th Training Wing, Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, has a family connection to 2nd Lt. George Whiteman, considered to be one of the first Army Air Corps members killed during the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. (U.S. Air Force photo by Annette Crawford)

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas -- His connection to a World War II hero isn’t by blood, but it’s a proud connection nonetheless to Airman 1st Class Hunter Fugitt.

Fifteen-year-old Hunter Fugitt, now an Airman 1st Class assigned to the 37th Training Wing, Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, places a wreath at the grave of 2nd Lt. George Whiteman with Matt Berry, another Whiteman relative, on May 18, 2015. Whiteman is considered to be one of the first Army Air Corps members killed during the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. (Courtesy photo/Hunter Fugitt)

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas -- His connection to a World War II hero isn’t by blood, but it’s a proud connection nonetheless to Airman 1st Class Hunter Fugitt.

Twenty-year-old Fugitt of Bolivar, Missouri, has known about 2nd Lt. George Whiteman nearly all his life. Whiteman is Fugitt’s father’s stepfather’s uncle.

Whiteman received his pilot training at Randolph Field, Texas, in 1940. He was an Army Air Corps pilot stationed at Bellows Field, Hawaii, when the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor began on Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941.

He took off in his P-40B aircraft and, according to the fact sheet on the Whiteman AFB website, the plane “had just lifted off the runway when a burst of enemy gunfire hit his cockpit, wounding him and throwing the plane out of control. The plane crashed and burned just off the end of the runway.” He was 22 years old.

Whiteman is thought to be one of the first Army Air Corps members killed during the assault. He was posthumously awarded 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. On Dec. 3, 1955, nearly 14 years after his death, the recently reopened Sedalia AFB was renamed Whiteman AFB.

Fugitt, who joined the Air Force in November 2018, now works as the 37th Training Wing commander’s executive assistant. He remembers visiting Whiteman AFB from the time he was very young, sitting in the cockpit of a B-52 and touring a missile silo. He and his family were guests of honor at the annual air show.

“We had a wreath-laying ceremony at his gravesite every year around Memorial Day to honor Lieutenant Whiteman, a 21-gun salute and everything,” Fugitt said. “I actually have some of the shell casings from those ceremonies.”

It’s not lost on Fugitt that Whiteman was only two years older than he is now when he made the ultimate sacrifice.

“I grew up knowing about him and he was a part of my life, even if we never met,” Fugitt said. “I try to imagine what was going through his mind as he ran to his plane. Now that I’m in the Air Force, it makes it that much more meaningful to remember him on Pearl Harbor Day.”