Skip to Main Navigation | Skip to Content

University Relations

University of Central Missouri
Administration 302
Warrensburg, MO 64093
Phone: 660-543-4640
Fax: 660-543-4943


Brig. Gen. Tibbets Recognizes Military ‘Heroes’ During Speech at UCM

Contact: Jeff Murphy
WARRENSBURG, MO (May 25, 2017) – In remarks that  included a brief history about the origins of Memorial Day, Brig. Gen. Paul Tibbets IV, commander of the 509th Bomb Wing at Whiteman Air Force Base, recognized the “heroes” that paid the ultimate sacrifice for this nation through their military service.

Brig. Gen Paul Tibbetts IV delivered the keynote address at the UCM Pre-Memorial Day ceremony May 24.

Tibbets’ remarks came before a crowd of about 70 people  in the University of Central Missouri Alumni Chapel, Wednesday, May 24, as the keynote speaker for the annual Pre-Memorial Day ceremony. The event was coordinated by UCM’s Office of Military and Veteran Services with participation from WAFB and other members of the university community.

According to Tibbets, Memorial Day was first celebrated in 1968 as “Decoration Day,”  then proclaimed a time for “decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country and whose bodies now lie in every city, village, hamlet and church yard in the land.” He pointed out that about 1.8 million men and women since the Revolutionary War have died in service to this nation.

“Really, what we are doing today is to treasure those folks who have come before, those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice, those who have given their life for this country, those brave men and women who have served… and we are now keeping their memory alive through their sacrifices,” Tibbets said.

Preserving that memory included talking about the heroes that had a Whiteman connection. Some lost their lives in battle, and some died trying to save the lives or prevent injury of others.

Among such individuals was former Sedalia resident 2nd Lt. George Whiteman, a member of the Army Air Corps who was believed to be among the first airmen killed in combat during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii on Dec. 7, 1941.  After driving across the island, then climbing aboard a P-40B Warhawk airplane, he was shot down and crashed on the runway while attempting to engage the enemy.

“He’ll be forever remembered for his bravery on that faithful day,” Tibbets said. “What does it take to make a hero? For Lt. Whiteman it’s that he stared danger in the face. He saw what was happening, and said ‘I need to do something about this.’ Instead of running away from danger, he ran towards danger.

“Certainly we recognize that and his sacrifices every year. We certainly we talk about that at Whiteman,”   Tibbets said in talking about the base’s namesake.

Tibbets’ discussion of heroes also focused on former Base Fire Chief P.E. Ralls, Airman 2nd Class Joseph Palagonia, Airman 3rd Class Jacob Lang and Wayne Hower who were killed on May 15, 1962 helping to control a fire that broke out when fuel spilled around the nose of a B-47 bomber shortly after a preflight inspection. An explosion set off a chain reaction that affected other aircraft on the flight line.

“The scene was pretty chaotic. The final accident toll was four men killed and 18 injured, six of which were serious and the aircraft was destroyed,” Tibbets said.

“Like so many times, the accident board came in and looked at it and said the actions of those airmen -  the timely and appropriate actions - actually saved lives. It minimized further damage and they are heroes for helping keep injuries to a minimum. As one bystander said, there were dozens of unrecognized heroes in the drama.”

Tibbets also spoke about Timothy Riggs a Whiteman Security policeman who was killed in 1991 after stopping to render assistance at the scene of a motor vehicle accident. The antenna of his vehicle came in contact with a downed powerline, which resulted in his death while trying to help someone in need.

He also mentioned Philip D. Ambard, who was a Venezuelan immigrant who enlisted in the Air Force and became an “outstanding professor” at the U.S. Air Force Academy and had volunteered support during Operation Enduring Freedom. He along with seven other U.S. service members was killed by an American-trained Afghan who betrayed them.

“Phil left behind a legacy of excellence and was an inspiration to those he served with and interacted with on a daily basis. His devotion to America, the military and to making a difference is what we remember Major Ambard for today.”

In addition to Tibbets’ remarks, the Pre-Memorial Day festivities included the color guard from Whiteman Air Force Base; the singing of the National Anthem by UCM alumna Candace Fowler; presentation of the POW/MIA Missing Man Table led by 1st Sgt. Jamil Goodwin, 509th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, Whiteman AFB; welcome by Deborah Curtis, UCM provost-chief  learning officer;  21-gun salute performed by members of the Warrensburg American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars posts; and the playing of TAPS by David Aaberg, professor of music at UCM.

Receiving his commission through the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1989, Tibbets has risen through the military ranks to become responsible for the combat readiness of the U.S. Air Force’s Spirit wing, including development and employment of the B-2’s combat capability as part of the Air Force’s Global Strike Task Force. His command provides logistics support for the Air Force Reserve 442nd Fighter Wing, Missouri Air National Guard 131st Bomb Wing, Air Combat Command 20th Reconnaissance Squadron and the Missouri Army National Guard 1st Battalion, 135th Aviation Unit. He manages flying assets in excess of $46 billion and an annual operations and maintenance budget of $147 million. Also during his career, Tibbets served on a variety of operational assignments as a B-1 and a B-2 pilot, including flying in combat missions in support of operations in Southwest Asia, the Balkans and Afghanistan. He has logged more than 3,800 flying hours as a command pilot.