Graveside Rites – 44 Years Later
After forgoing the grave side military honor service for 44 years, the family
decided it was time to have it. And so, On Saturday, August 18, 2012, Private First Class Russel Joseph "Joe" Whittington
was honored by family and friends in Macon Illinois. "We used the flag that draped Joe's coffin in 1968 and was
presented to my grandparents at that time. That was about as much as they could handle back then, and they didn't do TAPS or anything.
This time, the Macon County Honor Guard presented that same flag (after performing the folding of it) to my Uncles, Pat and Mike."
As part of the service, as they presented the flag, the honor guard spoke the following: "On behalf of the President of the
United States and the people of a grateful nation, may I present this flag as a token of appreciation for the honorable and
faithful service your loved one rendered this nation."
Following the honor service, there was a reception in the Macon Community Center where family and friends "shared a lot of memories
and tears, but it was so good to see them and hear all the old stories again!"
– Photos and Info provided by Michelle Rose Smith, Niece, Michigan
Click here to link to a full video of "Joe's"
2012 graveside military honor ceremonies.
– Video and link from, and property of, D. Patrick Whittington, brother
August 18, 2012 Honor Ceremony
Macon County Honor Guard prior to providing a three-Volley Salute. The three-volley salute
is not to be confused with a 21-gun salute (or 19-gun or 17-gun, etc.) which uses a battery of artillery pieces firing
one piece at a time for 21 times.
Honor Ceremony Flag folding for presentation to the family. This flag is the one presented
to Joe's parents in 1968.
Salute between members of the Honor Guard as Flag is now ready for presentation to the family.
Honor Guard proceeds to a position at the head of Joes grave in preparation for a final tribute to Joe, TAPS, and presentation of
the flag to the family. Final salute is rendered.
TAPS are played. Although there are no "official" words to Taps,
next are the most popular for the 1st verse. "Day is done, gone the sun, From the hills, from the lake,
From the skies. All is well, safely rest, God is nigh." Listen to TAPS and read about the origin of TAPS and the rest of
the popular verses here.
The folded Stars and Stripes was presented to Joe's parents in 1968 (Pat, Joe's Dad, Maurice
Houckes, and Joe's Mom at the 1986 Vietnam Memorial parade in Chicago, Illinois.)
The flag is presented to Pat and Mike Whittington as family and friends look on.
The man left of presenter with tie and sun glasses was Joe's best friend(Jack Carey), and a Pallbearer at Joe's funeral.
He was real 'broken up' when he learned of Joe's death. He thought of Joe as a brother. He is one of the many this ceremony
brought closure to. Joe's sister Connie has hand on her heart. Brother Mike is on left of Pat who has hand on flag. Michelle,
niece, almost blocked by presenter (stars and stripes on blouse). Brothers are surrounded their great nieces and family members.
A burial with Full Honors Ceremony for Russel Joseph Whittington is complete after 44 years.
After the ceremony, family and friends went to the Macon Community Center where they celebrated Joe's
life and service to his country. At the table with the commemoration cake are left to right: Cathy (Whittington) Thomas (sister),
Pat Whittington, Mike Whittington, and Connie (Whittington) Kopp (sister). There were six children all together. My mother was the
oldest, but passed away unexpectedly in 1995, at the age of 48. Her name was Carol (Whittington) Rose. The order
of the children were Carol (May 1946-1995), Joe (1948-1968), Mike (1949), Pat (1951), Cathy (1958 ), and Connie (1960). (Provided by
Carol's daughter, Michelle Rose Smith
It all started with this family request:
I am sending photos and information for my uncle, PFC Russel Joseph Whittington,
who was Killed In Action on December 18th, 1968.
My uncle's body arrived home for the family's
first viewing on Christmas Eve. They buried him 2 days after Christmas.
At the time, having a military honor ceremony at his funeral was too much for my grandparents.
Now both have passed on and we feel now is the time. We are having a military honor
ceremony at the cemetery in Macon Illinois on August 18th, 2012. It's something that's way over-due
and very much deserved.
I was only 3 years old when Joe was killed and have very vague memories of him. As a child,
I do remember his love of hunting and fast cars; also his love for his family. I decided to keep
a file some years back, as my own personal tribute and remembrance, but to also pass down to my daughter.
I've wanted to learn his information for so long, and tried to do my own searching on the internet,
but didn't really know what it was I was searching for.
Thank you... for your willingness to keep their memory alive!
– Michelle Smith, Niece, Michigan
1966 Macon baseball team.
Joe (Left), Dick Boggs (middle), and Ron Troxell (deceased) (right)
Taken 1968 in Macon, Illinois at neighbor's house
near his great grandmother's house
The day before Joe left for Vietnam in September 1968
at his high school sweetheart's (Cheryl Benge) house.
Joe's brother, Pat, when making arrangements for Joe's graveside memorial services in August 2012, sent
a picture of a Catholic Mass in Vietnam. "The camera with the film in it was with my brothers things when
they sent them back. The pictures were developed here at home after he was killed."
Pat continued "The picture of Mass brought, especially to my mom, a great comfort, when she saw them.
I know my mom's greatest prayers were for her children's salvation. I also attached a thanksgiving picture."
Thanksgiving in Vietnam, 1968
"Joe with the M-60 eating some
grapes probably at thanksgiving
1968" wrote Joe's brother Pat.
"Letters wrote to my parents from Joe's army buddies said that Joe attended Mass anytime one was available
and had attended just a few days before he was killed." his brother said.
– Story & Photos from D. Patrick Whittington, brother
Joe's brother Pat had read enough letters to know now where and the details of how Joe was killed.
He was carrying ammo as an ammo bearer for the M-60 machine gun the day he was killed. Spec 4 Maurice Houches said
in his letter to Joe's mother, he also was an ammo bearer for the same gun Joe was but wasn't there the day Joe was killed.
The real account comes in a letter from a man named David Soo from Hamilton Ontario, Canada who was with Joe when
he was killed. Spec 4 David Soo said in his letter to mom dated March 9th, 1969 "We were on patrol outside Thu Duc
operating in the rice paddies. Around 2:30 our squad was walking beside a dike with a couple of hooches about
25 meters in front of us. When the point man and flank man came within 15 meters of the hooches, Charlie (Viet Cong)
opened up on us. The first shots, I'm sorry to say hit your son. After the medic got to him we called in a dust off
to take your son to the hospital. After that Charlie kept us pinned down for two hours. After the fight was over
we slept in the water that night & then the next day they told us Joe didn't make it".
Another man named Bob Losche in Joe's Platoon from New York city sent his letter to my mom dated March 10th, 1969
and wrote: "I guess you know that Joe was killed at Thu Duc. We were ambushed. It all happened so fast, we didn't
know what hit us. Later in the evening Recon patrol walked into an ambush and had a man killed [The man killed was
SP4 Kenneth Bruce Millhouse, Spenard, Alaska]. They were working
with our company. The next day a man in our platoon walked into a boobie trap. He lost his leg as a result of it."
"Joe wasn't killed near Cambodia as I always thought. Although Joe was at one time in Quan Loi and he did mention
Loc Ninh in a letter that Joe himself dated September 30th, 1968, he was outside Thu Duc the day he was killed.
Thu Duc is actually about 20 miles north east of what used to be Saigon. Joe Scutchfileld was from Warsaw, Indiana,
and was Joe's best friend, then Maurice Houches from New Jersey , Bob Losche from New York City, and David Soo from Hamilton,
On left is PFC Howell, then SP4 Garret,
& SP4 David Soo with his hands on knees.
David Soo said "We were all in Joe's squad"
Left–Joe "Gomer" Scutchfield,
then Joe, and then Bob Losche
"This is Joe. It has to be taken at Quan Loi Vietnam, about 12 miles from Cambodia." (Pat, brother)
After action reports
show that Joe's unit, part of the 1st Infantry Division (Big Red 1), started their move from the Quan Loi area of operations
around the end of October 1968 as the 1st Cavalry Division's 3rd Brigade (Garry Owen) started moving in on 26 October for
Operation Liberty Canyon. For period of time, the 3rd Brigade was under the Operational Control of the 1st Infantry Division.
Reports for the 1st ID show they moved from Quan Loi to Phouc Vinh to Tu Duc.... (The Virtual Wall)
Newspaper Article From the Tower Hill Times and Herrick Newspaper,
December 1968 that covers Tower Hill and
Herrick Illinois areas.
From a yellowed and faded obituary from December 1968, the following information was transcribed
and it read: "Pfc Russel Joseph Whittington, 20, of Macon was killed in action while fighting in Vietnam Wednesday.
Mr. Whittington, who entered the Army April 10, 1968, was a son of Russel O. and Norma Jean Engeling Whittington of Macon.
Born in Pana on July 3, 1948, he spent most of his life in Macon. In 1966 he graduated from Macon High School.
He was formerly employed by Caterpilar Tractor Company.
He was a member of St. Stanislaus Catholic Church, Macon.
He received his basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, and advanced training at Fort Lewis, Washington.
He was sent to Vietnam September 4.
He leaves his parents; two brothers, Michael G. and Dennis P. Whittington of Macon; two sisters, Mrs. Lyle (Carol) Rose
of Hazeldell and Constance Jean of Macon; grandparents, Mrs. Edith Manuel of Pana and Mr. and Mrs. Ray Whittington of Herrick
and a great grandmother, Mrs. Maude Slater of Macon.
Funeral arrangements were beng handled by Ater Funeral Home, Macon."
Typed on the corner of the article: "Joe Had 3 sisters. Cathy is missing in the article."
– Article from D. Patrick Whittington, brother
Prayer card is from 1968 funeral service
The news paper article below was published after the funeral. The main difference
was the start of the clipping and the last paragraph stating the funeral was held on December 27, 1968. In between
the start and finish, it covered the exact same information as was in the article above published shortly after
the family was notified of Joe's death.
Bronze Star Award Ceremony
From Top Left to Bottom Right: Sharpshooter Qualification Badge for Automatic Rifle and Rifle,
Vietnam Campaign Ribbon (With 60 Device) and Combat Infantryman Badge, and Marksman Badge for M-60 Machine Gun; Bronze Star,
Purple Heart, and Army Commendaton Medal; Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, and Vietnam Service Medal.
After interviewing the family, similar news articles were published by the Pana News Palladium (On Line)
and Assumption News (paper). Below is a composite of the full story given to them by the family.
On Dec. 27, 1968, Russel Joseph "Joe" Whittington, 20, of Macon was
laid to rest in Macon Cemetery. Born in Pana, the Army Private First Class had died on Dec. 18, 1968,
in an ambush attack by Viet Cong forces in a rice paddy outside Thu Duc, about 20 miles northeast of
what was then known as Saigon.
In this current day and age, we are accustomed to seeing service men and women who have died in war
honored with military graveside rites. The American flag which adorned the casket is reverently folded
and presented to the family. "Taps" is played by a bugler and a 21–gun salute echoes around the cemetery.
But in PFC Whittington's case, his parents, the late Russel O. and Norma Jean Engeling Whittington, decided
to forego those above mentioned ceremonies. Only the folded flag was presented to them.
That will change on Saturday, Aug. 18, at 1:00 p.m. in Macon Cemetery. The Macon County Honor Guard will
perform the Military Graveside Honor Service for Joe, 44 years following his funeral.
The honor was made possible by the persistence of Joe's brother, Dennis P. "Pat" Whittington, 61, of
Macon. Pat was 17 years old when his brother was killed.
"It always bothered me we never had the ceremony for Joe," he said. "My family has talked about
it for a long time and I've been mulling it over for the last 10 years or so. But when this book
came out and had the wrong story in it of how Joe died, I decided I needed to set the record straight
and give him the honor he deserves."
"The book" Pat referred to is called, "One Shot at Forever: A Small Town, an Unlikely Coach,
and a Magical Baseball Season." It was written by Chris Ballard, a writer for the magazine Sports
Illustrated. The book details the 1971 season of the Macon Ironmen baseball team and their road to
the IHSA State Baseball championship game. It was the last year of the one–class system in Illinois,
and the Ironmen took second, losing to a large Chicago school in the championship game.
In one chapter of the book, Ballard writers about how the Vietnam War had affected the town of Macon
during those times, and mentioned the death of Joe Whittington. Although the Whittington family
always knew better, the rumor around Macon was Joe had been shot at night by a Viet Cong sniper
while lighting a cigarette and the author used the untrue story in his book.
"I guess that's what got me real fired up," Pat said. "I wanted the truth to be known."
In a letter to Whittington's mother dated March 9, 1969, SP4 Dave Soo, who was with Joe the day
he was shot, described what really happened:
"We were on patrol outside Thu Duc operating in the rice patties. Around 2:30, our
squad was walking beside a dike with a couple of hooches (a hut or simple dwelling, either military or
civilian. Also spelled hootch.) about 25 meters in front of us. When the point man and flank man came
within 15 meters of the hooches, Charlie (Viet Cong), opened up on us. The first shots,
I'm sorry to say hit your son. After the medic got to him we called in a dust off
to take your son to the hospital. After that Charlie kept us pinned down for two hours.
After the fight was over we slept in the water that night &
then the next day they told us Joe didn't make it".
Since the book was published, Pat has been in contact with Ballard. According to Pat, the author
"wants to make amends" and has been very apologetic to the family. He has made note of the error
through the Internet and had noted the August 18 ceremony on his Twitter account. He also informed
the family when the book is printed in paperback – probably sometime next year – he will
make sure the error is corrected and the true story of how Joe died will be printed.
"It's a very good book," Pat said. "Everything he wrote about Joe up to the part about how he died
was true. i don't want to bad-mouth the author. I just want to tell everyone how my brother really
PFC Russel Joseph Whittington was born July 3, 1948 in Pana, the son of Russel O. and Norma Jean
Engeling Whittington of Macon. He was the grandson of the late Cecil and Edith Manuel of Pana,
the late Mr. and Mrs. Ray Whittington of Herrick and great-grandson of the late Mrs. Maude
He was a 1966 graduate of Macon High School and was employed by Caterpillar Tractor Co., Decatur. He
was a member of St. Stanislaus Catholic Church, Macon.
Joe entered the U. S. Army on Apr. 10, 1968. He received his basic training at Ft. Leonard Wood, Mo.,
and his advanced training at Ft. Lewis, Washington. He was sent to Vietnam on Sept. 4, 1968. He was a
member of Company C, 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry Division.
In copies from a scrapbook Pat supplied, a story which apparently appeared in the Tower Hill Times –
Herrick Bulletin shows Joe received the Bronze Star Medal for Heroism and eight more awards posthumously
in ceremonies in the Macon American Legion Hall. The date of the award is unclear since
the newspaper daeline ends after "Friday, December..." The medal story appears to have been cut out of another
newspaper and pasted into the scrapbook. Pat said he was unsure when the ceremony was held, but knew it
was quite some time following the funeral. In addition to the Bronze Star, Major James Cofield
of Springfield presented the Army Commendation Medal for Meritorious Service, the Purple Heart,
Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Vietnamese Service Medal, Vietnamese Campaign
Ribbon and the Combat Infantry Badge.
In addition to Pat, Joe has another surviving brother, Michael G. Whittington of Macon and sisters
Constance Jean Kopp, Arnold, Mo. and Cathy Thomas, Decatur. Another sister, Carol (Mrs. Lyle) Rose is deceased.
All of Joe's family, friends and the public is invited to attend the service. Pat has been in contact
with some of Joe's friends and classmates from Macon High School. He has also heard from a member of
Joe's squad who lives in Indiana, and he is going to try to make it.
There will be a reception in the Macon Community Center following the event.
– Story & Photos from D. Patrick Whittington, brother