Edward Bostick Whitman Jr., 80, State Department official, pilot

February 15, 1999|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Edward Bostick Whitman Jr., a retired State Department official and World War II fighter pilot, died Friday of respiratory failure at a hospital in Auckland, New Zealand, where he had lived since 1985. The former Owings Mills resident was 80.

During the war, Mr. Whitman served in the Atlantic and Pacific theaters. He was shot down in both theaters, once landing behind Japanese lines but eluding capture. Then in 1952, while serving as director of intelligence at Air Force headquarters in Washington, he was forced to bail out of a burning P-51 Mustang while on a training flight from South Carolina to Andrews Air Force Base.

"I was really sweating the drop out. You know the old baseball saying, `Three strikes and out.' Well, I'd had to jump twice before and this one really had me worried until the chute opened," he told the Charleston (S.C.) News and Courier.

Mr. Whitman was a gifted spinner of tales of airborne combat.

"I think his Air Force days were really the time of his life, and he remembered them most fondly as he grew older," said his son, Edward B. "Buck" Whitman III of Riderwood.

Mr. Whitman, whose father was a Western Maryland Railway executive, was reared at the family home, The Knoll, in Garrison. He graduated from St. Paul's School in Concord, N.H., and earned a bachelor's degree from the Johns Hopkins University in 1940.

In 1939, he enlisted in the Maryland National Guard's 110th Field Artillery and later was commissioned a second lieutenant. He entered flight training in 1942 in Texas and, after earning his pilot's wings, was assigned as a P-39 fighter pilot at Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands in the Pacific in 1943.

After more than 50 combat missions, during which he destroyed three Japanese aircraft, he was shot down by a Japanese Zero north of Guadalcanal and landed behind enemy lines.

He bailed out at 10,000 feet and didn't open his chute until he reached 1,000 feet so that enemy fliers couldn't strafe him. After landing in a tree, he cut himself loose with his jungle knife and fell 20 feet, breaking his arm and injuring his eye and cheek.

Because of "phenomenal luck and tenacious courage," according to newspaper accounts, he was able to elude Japanese soldiers, whom he could often hear talking, by hiding in the dense jungle undergrowth. He then endured a 16-hour swim in the open ocean until he was picked up by a Marine patrol boat.

Later in the war, he volunteered for combat duty in Europe and was assigned as director of flight operations for the 354th Pioneer Mustang Fighter Group of the 9th Tactical Air Force.

While on a ground-strafing mission near Brest, France, his P-51 Mustang was severely damaged by enemy fire. He bailed out and landed 500 yards inside Allied lines.

"He had a real knack for flying which I think came very naturally to him," said Herbert A. Wagner of Owings Mills, a boyhood friend who served with the Royal Air Force as a Spitfire pilot. "He was both aggressive and inquisitive. Ned flew in both theaters of war, which was very unusual. Very few had that honor."

After the war, Mr. Whitman remained in the Air Force and retired as a colonel in 1956. He then worked for the State Department in Europe and Africa and retired again in 1977.

Mr. Whitman, who returned to Baltimore for the summer, was a member of the Society of the Cincinnati, Green Spring Valley Hunt Club, Society of the First Families of South Carolina and the Ponte Vedra Club.

At his request, no services will be held, and his ashes will be scattered from an airplane.

In addition to his son, he is survived by his wife of 51 years, the former Cherie Davenport; a daughter, Celia W. Osborne of El Paso, Texas; a sister, Susie W. Smithwick of Monkton; and six grandchildren.

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