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sewing for the 8th Air Force

Wilbur Floyd Whiting (1919-2006) died just over a year ago, around Christmastime. He was my grandmother’s first cousin. His mother Mamie (Marie Henriette Lembke) was my great-grandmother’s baby sister, and she and her husband Floyd were always close to my great grandparents. Wilbur, their only child, was sort of an auxiliary sibling alongside my grandmother’s five brothers and then someone who my mother saw a lot of as a child. ‘Cousin Wilbur’ was for decades the closest extended family my grandmother, and more recently my mother, had.

Wilbur was a commercial artist, draughtsman and designer, fleamarketeer, repairer of old chairs, and hoarder of stuff. In the Second World War he was in the Eighth Air Force in England. He worked on the ground, repairing and maintaining parachutes and flight leathers, and teaching the craft to others. His memorabilia from the war include astonishing binders of fabrics, grommets and stitch samples; needles the size of pencils; a formal scarf made from parachute silk; drafts of aircraft nose art; an appreciative note from a ‘caterpillar’ (a crewman who bailed out and owed his life to the parachute silk); and his own painted leather patch from the Air Service Command.

Wilbur’s whole patch collection includes his stripes (technical sergeant’s, though his separation papers call him a staff sergeant), a couple of 8th Air Force and Army Air Forces patches, and a Military Welfare Service patch, perhaps from his sweetheart.

There are unlabeled photos of a woman, and the shreds of a story of romance. But Wilbur came back stateside to live with his aging parents, and never did marry.

I hope to post more material in tribute to cousin Wilbur.

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  1. [...] Wilbur’s Air Service Command patch got me to go back over the fragments of his war memorabilia to flesh out his service. He was in [...]

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