NORMAN — Forty-six years ago, Maj. James L. Whited died on foreign soil; Friday, he was returned to the red earth of Oklahoma.
Close to 200 friends and family, people who knew the major and those who didn’t, gathered to pay tribute to Whited and honor the family who soldiered on without him for so many years.
Friday dawned brightly with thin clouds driven on a light southerly breeze. About 10 a.m. people began to arrive, drifting in small groups toward the gravesite at Sunset Memorial Park Cemetery.
A low rumble heralded the police motorcycle escort, followed by the coach and family cars, and 41 members of the Patriot Guard.
With dignity and solemn purpose the Guard dismounted and stood in two lines as an honor avenue for the family and Maj. Whited’s pall bearers.
Entering first was Annie Whited, the major’s widow, flanked by her daughter, Carolyn Willige, and son-in-law 1st Sgt. Ben Willige, a veteran himself. James P. Whited followed his mother with other family members falling in behind. They all took seats under the waiting canopy and the Patriot Guard formed what seemed to be a protective circle around all those gathered.
After a few minutes of silence, a single KS-135 Stratotanker flew low — south to north directly over the gathering — in salute to the American pilot who was being laid to rest.
The strains of “Peace in the Valley” filled the cemetery followed by a prayer offered by Jerry Rhodes, pastor of Crosspointe Church. That was followed by a musical offering of “The Lord’s Prayer.”
After a moment of silence, the pastor read from 1 Corrinthians 15:58. The passage speaks of steadfast perserverance in the service of the Lord, a steadfastness which would not be wasted.
Rhodes began his eulogy, drawing comparisons between the passage and Maj. Whited’s dedication to the military. Whited joined the military shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor; he was 18. He saw service in World War II as an enlisted man, then as an officer in Korea and Vietnam.
“But his life was not all about the military,” Rhodes said. “He was a dedicated family man as well.”
To illustrate his point, he shared stories from daughter Carolyn and son James that shed light on the life lessons they had learned from the man gone too soon from their lives.
“This was a scriptural son, a scriptural husband, a scriptural father, and a scriptural patriot,” Rhodes said in conclusion. “We come to lay to rest this patriot in the American soil he so dearly loved.”
The military honors continued with a rifle squad firing a three-volley salute. As the bugler sounded taps, the flag was removed from the major’s casket, folded and presented to the family with thanks and appreciation of a grateful nation.
So it was that on a soft autumn morning with flags unfurled that Maj. James L. Whited was buried with full military honors, 46 years after he gave his life in the service of his country.