Skip to main content
You are the owner of this article.
You have permission to edit this article.
Edit
top story

DAR bestows Quilt of Valor to Whalen

  • 0

Jiggs Whalen had just returned from a Detroit Lions football game

when he learned of the attack on Pearl Harbor that Sunday in December 1941.

That event would bring many changes to his life

Whalen, 101, the county’s oldest living veteran, was honored Saturday, Dec. 11, by the Fort Massac Chapter, National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution by receiving a Quilt of Valor for his service to his nation.

“We are so happy our Fort Massac chapter is able to present Jiggs with a Quilt of Valor to recognize his service and sacrifice to the United States of America,” said Diane Block, chapter regent.

The quilt was made and donated by chapter member Glenda Moody Moore, of Mesquite, Texas, to be presented to a serviceman. It is the second Quilt of Valor the chapter has presented. The first was in 2019 to Carl Mescher, a survivor of Pearl Harbor.

According to www.qovf.org, Blue Star mother and quilter Catherine Roberts began the Quilts of Valor Foundation in 2003 in Seaford, Delaware, during her son Nathanael’s year-long deployment to Iraq. She had a dream of “a young man sitting on the side of his bed in the middle of the night, hunched over. The permeating feeling was one of utter despair. I could see his war demons clustered around, dragging him down into an emotional gutter. Then, as if viewing a movie, I saw him in the next scene wrapped in a quilt. His whole demeanor changed from one of despair to one of hope and well-being. The quilt had made this dramatic change. The message of my dream was: Quilts — Healing.”

QOVF awarded its first quilt in November 2003 at Walter Reed Army Medical Center to a young soldier from Minnesota. As of Monday, Dec. 27, 291,505 quilts have been presented to service members and veterans who have been touched by war.

Along with the quilt, which carries a label certifying it as a Quilt of Valor, recipients are also given a certificate registering the quilt with the foundation and honoring the recipient for his years of service.

“I consider it an honor to be here, and I’m proud as a peacock for getting your quilt you have quilted for me. I thank you very much,” Whalen said during the presentation, which fell during the 80th anniversary week of the Pearl Harbor attack.

“This quilt is an expression of gratitude meant to thank Mr. Whalen for his service,” Block said. “Mr. Whalen, we honor you for leaving all that you held dear.”

•••

By all rights, Whalen shouldn’t have been in World War II as problems with his side for the majority of his life listed him as a 4F, or disabled and unfit for military service. In 1935, it developed into peritonitis and then appendicitis. He was operated on three times, and “they never got it right.” But three days after one of those operations, “I died. They brought three doctors in and brought me back, thank God.”

Born in March 13, 1920, in Harriman, Tennessee, James P. Whalen weighed 12 pounds, 14 ounces. With a tuft of white hair on the top of his head, when his neighbor came to see the newborn, she remarked, “My God, he looks like Jiggs in the funny paper.”

“And I’ve been wearing it for 101 years,” Whalen said of his nickname.

Harriman is “a little town in east Tennessee about 45 miles this side of Knoxville, on the highway between Knoxville and Nashville,” he said, noting its location made him “a strict backer of the Tennessee Vols.”

Whalen graduated from Harriman High School with a grade point average of 90.2%. One of his best friends beat him out of class salutatorian by three points.

When he wasn’t in school, he worked at a grocery store from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. for $1 on weekdays and to 9 p.m. on Saturdays for $1.50. The rest of the weekend, from 9:30 p.m. Saturday until 9 a.m. Sunday, he worked at a restaurant for $1.50.

“Down there, openings for employment and such weren’t too good,” he said.

So, Whalen moved to Detroit “in the hopes that some of the automotive manufacturers up there would give me a job.”

On the Sunday morning of Dec. 7, 1941, he went with a friend to downtown Detroit to see the Lions play. When he got home, he heard about Pearl Harbor.

The next day, Dec. 8, the United States declared war with Japan. In September 1942, Whalen and a friend enlisted in the Navy.

“I didn’t know an apprentice seaman from an admiral,” he said.

As a 4F, “they could not force me to go into the service,” he noted. “I don’t know why I chose the Navy, but I’m glad I did.”

•••

From Detroit, Whalen was sent to boot camp at Great Lakes Naval Training Station, about 40 miles north of Chicago. He became buddies with a man from Philadelphia, and after a couple of weeks, “he said he had a date with a girl from Waukegan. ‘She’s got a good buddy who’s going to be there. Why don’t you come with me and meet this girl on a blind date?’ I didn’t have a sweetheart, a girlfriend, not attached to anybody, so I went with him,” Whalen said.

That was the night he met Loyeszelle “Loy” Neal, who was born in Benton on March 30, 1925.

“I fell in love with her, and I accused her of being a thief,” he said. “ ‘A thief, what do you mean calling me a thief?!’ ‘Well, I called you a thief because you stole my heart and you won’t give it back to me.’ ”

And so began a courtship that crossed half the United States.

•••

In 1943, Whalen was transferred to New York City, which became his homeport. A few months later, he was sent to Miami for small craft command training — “that’s where I learned the difference between an apprentice seaman and an admiral,” he said.

Two weeks after Pearl Harbor, Germany and Italy joined together and declared war on the United States.

“The Germans were playing havoc with our shipping” of ammunition, food, clothes and supplies to the English and French. Germany claimed to have sunk 81 U.S. cargo ships in a month.

“President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the greatest president we’ve ever had, declared: ‘You people on the lakes building big luxury ships and transport ships and enjoyment ships will start making small craft for the small craft training command,” Whalen said.

And one of those ships is where he spent more than 18 months.

The USS PC-1179 was a submarine chaser. Built in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, it was 23 feet wide and 173 feet long. It was floated to Lake Erie and down the Mississippi River to New Orleans, where it commissioned on Jan. 22, 1944, and outfitted with guns, ammunition, bunks and supplies, then to Miami where he picked it up.

Whalen as put in charge as a yeoman, taking care of all the ship’s official connections. They ran convoys up and down the Atlantic Ocean — from New York, Norfolk, Miami, Panama Canal, Guantanamo and back to New York City.

Following one of those convoys, “guys swarmed aboard the ship saying we were going to go to the southwest Pacific, but we had to spend some time there” while the ship was outfitted for war. In the meantime, the sailors were given the opportunity to take leave.

“I was a yeoman. I handled all the paperwork going on and off that ship. The first thing my captain saw after that (letter from the commander and chief of the Atlantic Fleet) was my application for a leave,” Whalen said. “The captain granted my leave, and he applied for a transfer.”

•••

In the meantime, Loy Neal had left Waukegan and returned home to Benton.

Whalen hopped the train and came to see Loy, telling her he’d be gone for a few weeks and she could wait for him in New York City where she had a cousin and “she could hobnob with while I was on the convoy run. So why don’t we get married? She said, ‘All right. I’m missing you enough because you’re gone long enough that I miss ya. And I love ya enough I want to get married,’ ” he recalled.

They were married on May 13, 1944, by a Baptist preacher. They went back to New York City and got an apartment on Lower Manhattan Island.

Three weeks after their wedding day, Whalen was on “the smallest fighting ship in the U.S. Navy,” heading to the southwest Pacific.

It would be exactly 18 months before the couple saw each other again.

“When you write letters home, you can’t tell where you are or what you’re doing,” Whalen said. “I addressed her as ‘my newly-married wife, my darling blue-eyed angel.’ One of the officers said, ‘Boy, you really know how to pour it on when you write home.’ ”

•••

The USS PC-1179 and its 61 sailors sailed from New York City through the Panama Canal, stopping for fuel and water in Acapulco, then to San Diego and on to New Guinea for Christmas — the last time he touched ground. According to the Naval History and Heritage Command website, the ship was attached to the 7th Fleet in September 1944 as part of a convoy escort for the Leyte invasion in the Leyte Gulf in the southern Philippines and then on to Luzon.

That September, Whalen said, Japanese emperor Hirohito was gathering his fighting ships, telling those sailors, “You will go and intercept that convoy and you will destroy the United States fleet and the convoy.” U.S. Pacific fleet commander Admiral Bill Halsey told his sailors to intercept the Japanese, which would be coming in a V shape, through its middle, providing the U.S. the advantage of firing from both sides and the missed shots of the Japanese hitting each other. “That day, we sank 93 Japanese fighting ships; we destroyed the complete Japanese fighting navy,” Whalen said.

PC-1179’s next invasion was at the Lagonoy Gulf in Luzon, helping land “enough fighting men that they captured those nine airfields. From there, the bombers could fly and our fighters could go along with them and give them protection to fly into Tokyo,” a city of 12 million, for Operation Meetinghouse from March 9-10, 1945.

For the bombing of Tokyo, pilots used napalm instead of high explosive gun powder. The next day, Whalen recalled, “Hirohito went on worldwide television and said, ‘You bombed Tokyo and you killed 112,000 people that night and that’s not fair.’ He didn’t say a word about how many island nations they had conquered and killed people and such through the southwest Pacific. Our army came along and killed the Japanese off these islands and set those island nations back up as an independent nation. Old Hirohito had the audacity to complain that ‘you killed 112,000 people in Tokyo.’ We knew that pretty well would end the war.”

PC-1179 was detached from the 7th Fleet in January 1945 and underwent training for Operation Iceberg, the Okinawa campaign, entering those waters in March and spending nine days clearing minefields. She continued with the 3rd Fleet’s minesweepers through the end of the war.

“Our mine sweep would go along and cut the cable that held the mines. When the mine floated, our job was to blow it up so it wouldn’t be there when the invasion force got there,” Whalen said. “We were blowing those mines up, and our mine sweep hit a mine. I think it had 31 people; we picked up five.”

Whalen was at Nakagusuku Bay in Okinawa when the Japanese surrender was signed Sept. 2, 1945, on the deck of the battleship Missouri in Tokyo Bay, Japan, ending the war.

“The old emperor refused to come and sign the surrender. It was beneath his dignity. He had his prime minister to go and sign it,” Whalen said. “We did not choose to go into World War II, the war was forced on us — Japanese declared war on the United States at Pearl Harbor and two weeks later, Germany and Italy declared war on the United States. They were the ones that started it. I don’t know what you do to prevent war from people that are sending fighting forces out against you. We did not ask for any of that war. It was every bit forced on us.”

That night Whalen and his shipmates went ashore to await a LCVP (landing craft, vehicle, personnel) which would to take them to a passenger ship for transport to the United States for dismissal from the Navy. PC-1179 was decommissioned on May 13, 1946. It was renamed the USS Morris in February 1956 and scrapped after being sold in May 1961.

Whalen arrived in San Diego and boarded a train to Chicago.

“I’ve never had such a train ride in all my life. They’d gotten all the trains off the track — that train held priority over everything. So help me, I believe that train was doing 120 mph,” Whalen said.

After serving for three years and two months — from September 1942 to November 1945 — with a “lot of crazy experiences,” Whalen, who went in as an apprentice seaman, was discharged as a petty officer first class. He took the train from Chicago to Benton, where Loy had returned home.

•••

The couple moved to Monroe, Michigan, where Whalen returned to work.

“The company I worked for before going in had been bought out, but the new company gave me a job, which was just as good as if it was from the other company. We settled down there,” he said.

In 1950, they moved from Monroe to Metropolis where he and his brother-in-law Gene Nell set up the Allis-Chalmers farm machinery dealership behind the Hotel Metropolis, on the corner of Market and Seventh streets, before moving downtown. At that time, there were six farm machinery dealerships in Metropolis.

“Farmers would come to town on Saturdays with a clean pair of overalls on and sit on the streets in uptown Metropolis and talk about everybody that goes by and raise more corn up there on the curb than they ever did out in the field,” Whalen said.

Shortly after moving to Metropolis, Whalen became a charter member of the Metropolis Gideons organization. Other charter members included the Rev. Charles Morris, Les Easterday, Trigg Bonifield, Albert Molar, Harry Davis and Jim Howard.

The tractor dealership was open for 12 years, closing in 1962, and Whalen went on to eventually retire from Electric Energy Inc.

The Whalens raised four children — Karen Kaufer, of Ocala, Florida; Trisha Gould, of San Diego, California; Keith Whalen, of Zebulon, North Carolina; and Tim Whalen, of Metropolis — and saw their family grow to 10 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.

Once the kids were grown, the Whalens bought a trailer and traveled to 48 states.

“We wanted to see the United States because we never got to see anything before,” he said. “We had no place to be, no time to be there, no time to be back. We had no responsibility because the kids were all grown and on their own.”

Loy died on Aug. 19 at the age of 96.

“I was married to that little ol’ girl 77 years and three months. A lot of people don’t live to 77 years old, much less be married for 77 years,” he said. “She was the love of my life. I’m proud to this day to say I’m a one-woman man and she was a one-man woman. And I still miss her, and I still love the stuffins out of her.”

In total, around a six Quilts of Valor have been presented to Massac County veterans over the years by various organizations.

“I consider it a great honor,” Whalen said. “I’ll walk away from here walking on clouds from being honored in such a way.”

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.