In my latest book, Apollo 1: The Tragedy That Put Us On the Moon, I honor the three fallen astronauts, one of whom was Edward Higgins White II. Ed was a 1952 graduate of the US Military Academy, at a time when prospective Air Force flyers attended West Point. The Air Force Academy did not yet exist until 1954. Ed served in the Air Force until he became an astronaut in 1962. In 1965, he was the first American to walk in space.
Service in America’s military forces was not limited to Ed; the tradition ran strong in the White family.
Ed’s father, Edward Higgins White Sr., a 1924 graduate of West Point, served in the Army Air Corps before it became a separate force apart from the Army in 1947. He served in the Air Force for 33 years, flew over 100 different types of aircraft, conducted the first aircraft-to-train transfer of U.S. mail, and amassed over 8,000 hours of flight time before his retirement in 1957 as a major general. He won two Legion of Merit awards and a Distinguished Service Medal.
Ed’s younger brother, James B. White, graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1964, but was tragically killed in 1969 during the Vietnam conflict when his plane crashed in Laos.
One of Ed’s uncles, James White, attended West Point and served in the infantry, while another uncle, John White, graduated from the Naval Academy, served in the Marine Corps, and, as an embassy guard in Beijing in 1941, was captured by the Japanese and spent the entirety of World War II in a prisoner-of-war camp.
One would be hard pressed to find another American family that has sacrificed so much for American freedom.