Charley Richard Wilhite passed away in Lake St. Louis, MO, on April 22, 2022, at the age of 89.
On June 2, 1932, Charley was born in Praire Grove, Arkansas, the son of Thomas (Boone or TK) Wilhite and Dorothy (Branam) Williams Wilhite.
He entered the U.S. Army on March 2, 1949, at the age of 16 (his birth certificate was destroyed in a hospital fire, and his mother signed paperwork endorsing that he was of age to enlist.) Sometime between his training in Maryland and his assignment in New Jersey, he began courting Madeline Arlene Warder, who became his wife on June 2, 1951 (Charley’s birthday). They had four children; Charles, Donald, Thomas, and Wayne.
In late 1956, Charley started flight school in Mineral Wells, Texas, graduating in 1957. In 1961, he was transferred from Fort Lewis to Germany with a stop at Fort Rucker for fixed-wing (airplane) flight training. While in Germany, Charley was stationed at a former German airbase named Fliegerhort, located just a short distance from Frankfurt, where he flew several different helicopters and airplanes. In the summer of 1964, Charley and his family were transferred to Fort Benning, Georgia, where he was assigned to the 11th Air Assault Division. On August 17, 1965, Charley’s unit was stationed at Camp Radcliff, An Khe, Vietnam, where he flew many different types of helicopters. One of the most notable was the battle of La Drang on November 14, 1965. This battle has been dramatized by the 2002 war film “We Were Soldiers,” starring Mel Gibson. After Christmas in 1965, he suffered a bullet wound to his leg in combat, and doctors spent several years reconstructing his leg. While recovering from his injuries, he met John Wayne, who took time out from filming the “Green Berets” movie to visit some of the wounded soldiers.
Charley’s military career spanned over 28 years and included flying many different aircraft. He transported many dignitaries to their destinations. He met and flew Ron Ely (Tarzan), Sebastian Cabot, and Astronaut Neil Armstrong. He was also scheduled to fly Bob Hope, but the tour was canceled. During his last five years of duty at Fort Benning, Charley supported NASA on two different occasions by providing stand-by Medivac support for two of their launches.
After 28.5 years of active service in the U.S. Army, Charley Wilhite retired from the Army on September 30, 1977.
At his retirement ceremony, he was awarded the Legion of Merit Medal, in addition to his Purple Heart, Air Medal (11th Award), Joint Service Medal Commendation Medal, Army Commendation Medal, Good Conduct Medal (3rd), Army of Occupation Medal (Japan), National Defense Service Medal, Korean Service Medal with 1 Bronze Star, Vietnam Service Medal with Silver Star, Armed Forces Reserve Medal, Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with palm, United Nations Service Medal, and Vietnam Campaign Medal with 60 Device.
Charley is survived by his four children; Charles, Donald, Thomas, and Wayne; his sister, Dr. Ruth Goodwin of Valdosta, Georgia, and Alpha Clark, of Kemmerer, Wyoming; five grandchildren, Kari, David, Wayne, Jr., Jessie, and Nathan; seven great-grandchildren.
He is preceded in death by his parents, his siblings, Buster, Grant, Sonny Boy, Wes, George, Carl, Luther (Luke), Clyde, Jim, and Donna, and one grandchild, Rich.
Charley was described as a good and generous man who was loved dearly by his family and everyone he knew!