The pilot didn’t have to ask twice.
He wanted to know if Edward “Whitey” Feightner wanted to take over the plane’s controls. Within minutes, Feightner was spending a beautiful day in Idaho flying among the birds around Lake Coeur d’Alene.
That happened a month ago today on Feightner’s 97th birthday. No gift could have been more perfect for the Elida High School graduate who went on to become a World War II ace pilot, a member of the Blue Angels, a military test pilot and trainer, and a rear admiral in the United States Navy.
“He was quite smooth on the controls, really remarkable considering how little he has flown in the last 50 years,” said Jim McBride, 72, Whitey’s nephew and caretaker.
Jim and Deb McBride and Whitey have lived in Coeur d’Alene for about two years.
“It is just beautiful here and Uncle Ed is very happy,” said Jim McBride. “Ed is in an assisted-living facility. Physically, he’s in great shape. You would never believe he’s 97. Up to a year ago his mind was sound, but we’re now seeing a bit of dementia.”
Many people called The Lima News after last week’s column that detailed Feightner’s war heroics and sought his whereabouts. Most of them knew Feightner before Uncle Sam sent him off to the South Pacific, where his air skills saw him shoot down nine Japanese fighter planes with another four listed as probable kills.
It was a pleasure listening to their stories.
Gerry Neely said she knew Feightner “forever.” She recalled an instance that happened during World War II. She was flying to California to see her husband, Scott, who was on leave. During a stop in Wichita, Kansas, she said she got to talking with a Navy pilot. “When he realized I was from Lima he asked if I knew Whitey Feightner. He told me Whitey saved his life. Whitey shot down a Japanese Zero that was on his tail.”
Ruth Smith told how Feightner valued family and hometown roots.
“Eddy would often come back to Lima in the mid-90s to visit his mother, take her to church at St. Luke’s Lutheran downtown, and then to dinner.”
Feightner had two sister, Miriam and Eleanor Protsman, the latter who was married to Paul McBride when he was killed during the first wave of D-Day. Jim McBride is Paul’s son. Feightner and his late wife, Vi, took a special interest in Jim, especially since they had no children of their own.
Cleo Cruse, 87, said “Eddy’s grandfather, Lewis, owned the round barn on East Road. His dad, Evan, raised his family in the red brick home that still stands today by Orick Industries in Elida. It was called Buck Town in the late 20s and early 30s. It had a motel and two filling stations and was like a suburb of Elida.”
Most of those who called referred to their old chum as “Eddy.” Few knew how he got the nickname “Whitey.”
Jim McBride told that story.
“His first assignment after getting his wings was to Hawaii, his first skipper was Butch O’Hare, of O’Hare Airport fame. In between training flights they of course did a lot of swimming, diving and fishing. Edward never tanned, he just burned in the sun. So Butch started calling him “Whitey” and it has stuck the rest of his life. Uncle Ed credits Butch with his surviving the war from the things Butch taught him about fighting the Japanese.”
ROSES AND THORNS: The rose garden looks forward to a “Spectacular” time.
Rose: To Harry and Myrna Shutt. For decades the owners of the Kewpee Hamburgers have been major underwriters of the Ohio Northern University Holiday Spectacular.
Rose: To Frank Hayhurst and fellow employees of Lee Restoration of Delphos who are working atop of the Allen County Courthouse.
Rose: To the many area students and residents who took part in Veterans Day activities. The community spirit was awesome.
Thorn: To the Wapakoneta football fans who waved Confederate flags and allegedly taunted racial slurs during the school’s recent playoff game against Trotwood Madison. The group gave the entire school and community a bad name.
Thorn: Alcohol is believed to be a contributing factor in a fatal collision Thursday on state Route 115 just north of Lima.
PARTING SHOT: Why does someone believe you when you say there are 4 billion stars, but check when you say the paint is wet?
Jim Krumel is the editor of The Lima News. Contact him at 567-242-0391 or at The Lima News, 3515 Elida Road, Lima, Ohio 45807.