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Four generations of veterans

For four generations, men in the Whitaker family have heard the call of duty and enlisted in the military to serve their nation. Pvt. 2nd class William ‘Will’ Whitaker, a May 2012 graduate of Pike County High School, followed in his father’s, grandfather’s and great-grandfather’s footsteps by joining the military. He was recruited into the U.S. Army during high school and out of 184 cadets that graduated Sept. 27, he was the only linguist of the group. He now serves as a cryptolinguist specializing in the Russian language in Monterey, Calif. ’His love for language started at the high school level. Him being able to write and speak in Russian and Spanish as first languages really says a lot for the education he received at PCHS,’ said his mother Gina Whitaker. ‘His teachers Laura Shank, Ashley Johnson, Katherine Avila-Diaz and Dr. Kris Clair saw what he was capable of in the classroom and encouraged him. He has made career decisions based on how teachers connected what he was doing in the classroom with a career.’ Will took four years of Spanish at PCHS and like his ‘˜Papa’ William Robert Whitaker, he signed up for the military during high school and trained with Army recruiters long before he started boot camp. Will’s father, Master Sgt. Robert ‘Bob’ Whitaker, is currently a flight engineer instructor based in Little Rock, Arkansas. He has been an active member of the U.S. Air Force since he enlisted in 1986. Like his son, he is also a graduate of PCHS. He has more than 1,800 flying hours in the C-130 and has 120 combat and combat support flying hours. He served in Operation Shining Hope during the Kosovo crisis, Operation Southern Watch in Saudi Arabia, Operation Iraqi Freedom and has also flown missions in Afghanistan, where he was awarded the Air Medal for his service. Master Sgt. Robert Whitaker’s brother William ‘Bill’ Whitaker served as a staff sergeant from 1984-89, starting his career in the U.S. Air Force as a jet engine mechanic on C-130s at Pope Air Force Base and later transferring to Shaw Air Force Base as an intelligence technician. Their father, William Robert Whitaker, served during the Korean War with a special ops amphibious outfit that operated in the East China Sea and the Formosa Straits. ’I went into the Army when I was 17. My mother had to sign for me. The Korean War was going on full bore and I took basic training at Camp Roberts in California and shipped out from there to Okinawa to join the 75th Marauders,’ said William Robert Whitaker. ‘I was the youngest in the outfit to start with but I was raised in the mountains of North Carolina so I was in really good physical condition and I never fell behind. Some of our city boys didn’t do too well but me, coming out of the Appalachians, I kept up with the best.’ He served overseas for 28 months, receiving his GED in a May 1954 ceremony, even though he had enough credits to graduate from the private boarding school he had been attending in the middle of the 12th grade. He said his math skills helped him set up artillery accurately during the Korean War. ’Being in that private boarding school, I took a lot of math classes. That math really helped me in the Army because I was able to what they call lay the guns in and figure the elevation and azimuth needed to hit the targets,’ he said. ‘We’d fire right in close to friendly troops so we had to make sure it was set right, otherwise it would drop right in on our own troops. I coerced my mama into signing for me to join because I wanted to shoot at people but I didn’t fully realize those suckers shot back. I did really enjoy it though because it was such an adventure for a teenager. It really helps you grow up and learn respect. The military also teaches a lot of responsibility.’ He said he is proud of his son and grandson, one who has a long, illustrious military career and the other who has just started his career. Like himself and his grandson, his father also served in the U.S. Army. ’My daddy, Samuel Jep Whitaker was drafted in the Army during World War II. He went through France with the 7th Armored Division, which was part of Gen. Patton’s outfit,’ he said, noting his father was even named in the Army. ’When he was drafted in the Army, the only names on his birth certificate were Samuel Whitaker. On entering the service, the sergeant filling out his papers said, ‘˜Solider, you’ve got to have a middle name.’ So he thought about the old coon hound on the back porch of his family home in the mountains, who was named Jep. So he named himself Jep and that was what he was known by throughout his years in the military. When he came out of the Army and until he died in 1965, everyone called him Jep.’ Jep Whitaker was in the infantry during WWII but served in an armored division whose goal was to protect tanks and heavy artillery. William Robert Whitaker said he would encourage all young men and women to join the military for the experience and education it provides. ’Our family has four generations who served their country,’ he said. ‘It’s done us all well.’

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