Whitaker, Frank Melvin, LCDR

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Last Rank
Lieutenant Commander
Last Primary NEC
131X-Unrestricted Line Officer - Pilot
Last Rating/NEC Group
Line Officer
Primary Unit
1943-1944, USS Bunker Hill (CV-17)
Service Years
1934 - 1944
Lieutenant Commander
Lieutenant Commander

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Year of Birth
This Military Service Page was created/owned by Donald Losey (Fallhiker), MM1 to remember Whitaker, Frank Melvin (Silver Fox), LCDR.

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Casualty Info
Home Town
Not Specified
Last Address
3659 Adams Ave
San Diego, CA
(Wife: Barbra Mabel Whitaker)

Casualty Date
Feb 02, 1944
Non Hostile- Died while Missing
Air Loss, Crash - Sea
Pacific Ocean
World War II
Location of Interment
Manila American Cemetery - Taguig City, Philippines
Wall/Plot Coordinates
Tablets of the Missing (cenotaph)

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 Additional Information
Last Known Activity

Frank M. Whitaker was born in 1910 at Spokane, Washington.  His family had settled there in 1876, his father a physician and grandfather a farmer near Pullman.  Frank was an accomplished artist and musician in high school, where he played football and turned out for track.  In 1927, on the day Lindbergh flew the Atlantic, Frank won the state 220 low hurdles championship. 

Frank attended Gonsaga University in Spokane before winning an appointment to the Naval Academy in 1930, where he continued to participate in sports, music and art.

After graduation in 1934, he served nine months aboard the USS MARYLAND (BB-46), followed by two years aboard USS CROWNINSHIELD (DD-134), an old four-pipe destroyer later turned over to Britain as part of the lend-lease program.

The Class of 1934 was full of over-achievers.  One reason was the congressional mandate that only the upper half of each class receive a Navy Commission.  The others entered the Reserve and waited for an opening.  President Roosevelt’s expansion of the Navy created a new demand for officers, so all of the 1934 and subsequent classes were commissioned.

Frank applied for flight training and reported to Pensacola in January 1937.  Fourteen months later, Frank was assigned to Torpedo Six (VT-6), LCDR W. B. Ault commanding.  VT-6 received 18 new TBD Devastators between February and April 1938 and then deployed on the USS ENTERPRISE (CV-6) shakedown cruise to Rio de Janeiro (18 July to 22 September 1938).

Frank was detailed to fly the cameraman and director of the MGM feature film “Flight Command.”  Following this 3-month stint, Frank reported for duty in Pensacola with Training Squadron 1-B.  This was followed by a brief tour as XO of a squadron assigned to USS Bogue before assuming command of VT-17.
The film “Flight Command” was released in 1940, starring Robert Taylor as a new ensign, Walter Pidgeon as the skipper and Ruth Hussey as the skipper’s wife.  The aerial scenes were flown by real Navy pilots from a squadron based at San Diego at the time.

Training Squadron VN-1B was based at Corry Field, one of 16 bases then flying the bi-wing N2S/N3N Yellow Peril.  This was Primary flight training lasting about three months, beginning with taxiing the tail-dragger aircraft and ending with formation and night flying.  Each student accumulated about 110-hours of flying, dual and solo, plus a couple hundred hours of class-room instruction.  Frank probably instructed at Corry from the summer of 1940 until the summer of 1942. 

In June of 1942, VGS-9 (later VC-9) was in Kodiak flying F4Fs.  In July, the squadron moved to NAS Seattle.  In September, the squadron had 6 F4Fs and 4 TBFs.  The squadron moved to San Pedro in October and then to San Diego in November, at which time the squadron had their full complement of 12 F4F and 9 TBF aircraft, commanded by LCDR William B. Drane.  USS BOGUE (ACV-9 later CVE-9) arrived in San Diego near the end of November.  By mid-December, the ship and squadron were reported “at sea” and arrived in Norfolk on New Year’s Day.  The exact dates of Frank’s service with this squadron are unknown.

VT-17 was officially commissioned on 1 January 1943, LCDR Frank M. Whitaker commanding.  However, the squadron had only 13 aircraft by the end of February, with new pilots and aircraft dribbling in over the next few weeks.  

The other skippers in Air Group Seventeen (CVG-17) were LCDR John Thomas Blackburn 1 (NA 1933) the skipper of VF-17, and LCDR James E. Vose 2 (NA 1934) the skipper of VB-17.  The Air Group Commander (CAG) was CDR Michael P. Bagdanovich (NA 1929).  According to Blackburn, Frank was known as the Silver Fox in those days, probably because of his premature gray hair.

The air group boarded USS BUNKER HILL in July 1943.  Frank and his 1st division became known as “Hobo.”  The 2nd division became “Boxcar”; and the 3rd division became “Caboose.”  Their home aboard BUNKER HILL became “Hobotown.” “Roundhouse” was the call for pilots to rendezvous.  “Chow Down” was the signal to prepare to attack and “Dinner is ready” signaled the target is sighted.

Frank had met Mary Lewellin during his tours in San Diego and they married in June 1937.  The couple raised two children, Frank III and Margaret, who were 6 and 3 at the time of Frank’s tragic death. Frank and his wingman had a mid-air collision on 2 February 1944, near Engebi Island in the Eniwetok Atoll.  There are few details on exactly how the collision occurred, but witnesses saw both aircraft hit the water and the area was thoroughly searched for survivors without success.
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Naval Aviator Wings

 Duty Stations
USS Maryland (BB-46)US NavyNaval Aviation Preflight Indoctrination (API), NAS Pensacola, FLVT-6/VTB-6 (WW II)
USS Enterprise (CV-6)Naval Communications Training Center (Faculty Staff)/NTTC Corry Field, Pensacola, FL (Faculty Staff)VT-17USS Bunker Hill (CV-17)
  1934-1935, USS Maryland (BB-46)
  1935-1937, USS Crowninshield (DD-134)
  1937-1938, Naval Aviation Preflight Indoctrination (API), NAS Pensacola, FL
  1937-1939, VT-6/VTB-6 (WW II)
  1938-1939, USS Enterprise (CV-6)
  1940-1940, USS Bogue (ACV-9)
  1940-1942, Naval Communications Training Center (Faculty Staff)/NTTC Corry Field, Pensacola, FL (Faculty Staff)
  1943-1944, 131X, VT-17
  1943-1944, USS Bunker Hill (CV-17)
 Combat and Non-Combat Operations
  1943-1943 World War II/Asiatic-Pacific Theater
  1943-1943 Gilbert Islands Operation/Battle of Tarawa
  1943-1944 World War II/Asiatic-Pacific Theater/Bismarck Archipelago Operation
  1944-1944 Marshall Islands Operation (1944)/Battle of Kwajalein Atoll (Operation Flintlock)
 Colleges Attended 
United States Naval AcademyGonzaga University
  1930-1934, United States Naval Academy1
  1930-1930, Gonzaga University
 Other News, Events and Photographs
  Feb 04, 2015, General Photos2
 Military Association Memberships
WW II Memorial National RegistryWorld War II FallenUnited States Navy Memorial The National Gold Star Family Registry
  2015, WW II Memorial National Registry
  2015, World War II Fallen
  2015, United States Navy Memorial - Assoc. Page
  2015, The National Gold Star Family Registry
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