WHITELEY, ELI LAMAR
WHITELEY, ELI LAMAR (1913–1986). Eli Lamar Whiteley, World War II Medal of Honor recipient, was born near Liberty Hill, Williamson County, Texas on December 10, 1913, the second son of farmers Eli Whiteley and Ruth (Hunt) Whiteley. As a youngster growing up on a farm, young Eli helped his father tend to the livestock (Angora goats and turkeys) and the crops, mostly cotton and grains. While a high school student, he participated in the Future Farmers of America and was active in sports and played football and ran track. A member of the debate club, Whiteley also participated in public speaking. He graduated from Georgetown High School on May 21, 1932.
With a desire to study civil engineering and willingness to work to finance his way through school, Whiteley applied to Texas A&M for the fall term in 1932. When his father was informed by the assistant registrar that his son needed additional course work at a junior college and would only be admitted on probation, Whiteley sought employment in order to save money for school. Since job prospects in Central Texas during the Great Depression were slim, Whiteley took odd jobs wherever he could on ranches, gas stations, as a waiter, and building rock fences. His most rewarding employment was his three years with the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA).
After working for six years, Whiteley, wanting to major in agriculture, applied again to Texas A&M in 1938 and was accepted at the age of twenty-four. For his military science requirement, he selected the cavalry. Determined to finish college quickly, he also worked his way through school to cover costs and took two jobs—one at a Humpty Dumpty grocery store and one in a café. Whiteley took heavy course loads and attended summer sessions for three years and graduated with a B.S. degree in agriculture on August 30, 1941. Unfortunately, he failed to finish the required ROTC courses that would have led to an army officer’s commission. After graduation, he departed for graduate school at North Carolina State College in Raleigh.
Whiteley’s plans changed with the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. He informed the draft board in Brazos County to insert his name for the next call. On April 12, 1942, Whitley was drafted into the United States Army and assigned to basic training at Camp Wolters, Texas. He was then ordered to attend a three-week noncommissioned officers course that he finished on September 19 and subsequently was selected for officers training at the Infantry Officers Candidate School at Fort Benning, Georgia. Whiteley completed the course and earned a commission as a second lieutenant. He then returned to Camp Wolters to serve as a training officer. After completing the Infantry Officers Advanced Course in Fort Benning, Georgia, in 1944 and another assignment as a training officer at Camp Wolters, Whiteley was ordered to Europe and arrived in England in mid-November. On November 19, he was assigned as a rifle-platoon leader in Company L, Fifteenth Infantry Regiment, Third Infantry Division in France.
When Whiteley joined his new unit, the Fifteenth were fighting the Germans in the Vosges Mountains of Alsace in eastern France. As the Allies moved closer to the Rhine River and Germany, the enemy provided a hostile reception. On December 23, the Fifteenth Infantry attacked German positions in Bennwihr and Sigolsheim. Efforts to remove the enemy in Bennwihr proved costly for Whitley’s unit. Company L had entered the dangerous fighting with 125 men and had only fifty-six when the fighting ended that day.
German defenders proved more difficult to remove from Sigolsheim. On December 26, Lieutenant Whitley distinguished himself as he led his platoon in “savage house-to-house fighting.” Making use of a submachine gun, grenades, and a bazooka, Whiteley aggressively attacked three houses, lost an eye, suffered severe wounds, and “killed 9 Germans, captured 23 more and spearheaded an attack which cracked the core of enemy resistance in a vital area.” Whiteley was recommended the Medal of Honor for his actions.
For the rest of his military career, Eli Whiteley sought to recover from his numerous wounds. After the battle, he was moved to an aid station where it appeared he might not survive. Whiteley spent time in French hospitals in early 1945. On March 7, he was transported to the Stark General Hospital in Charleston, South Carolina. He was then moved on a hospital train to Dibble Army Hospital in Menlo Park, California. At Dibble, Whiteley received treatment for his injuries, underwent plastic surgery, and was fitted for an artificial eye. Between treatments, he spent much time playing bridge with other patients.
While still a patient receiving treatments for his wounds in California, Whitely was ordered to report to Washington D.C. On August 23, 1945, President Harry Truman presented the Medal of Honor to First Lieutenant Eli Whiteley in a ceremony at the White House. Following the ceremony, witnessed by his mother and brother, he returned to California for additional treatments.
After being discharged with the rank of captain from the military in May 1946, Whiteley sought a career in academia. In 1946 he accepted a position to teach freshman agronomy classes at Texas A&M. He also returned to graduate school at North Carolina State College and received his master’s degree in 1949. The Agronomy Department at Texas A&M subsequently offered Whiteley a teaching position that he accepted. On September 11, 1949, he married Anna Morris Sauders; they had two sons and three daughters. Whiteley spent the rest of his academic career at College Station and earned his Ph.D. from the school in 1959 and conducted research on such crops as canola, sugar beets, hops, soybeans, and narrow-row cotton. He held memberships in the American Society of Agronomy, Soil Science Society of America, Sigma Xi, and other organizations. He served as president of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society and was also Post Commander of his local American Legion Post. He was honored with induction into the Infantry School Hall of Fame at Fort Benning, Georgia. Whiteley retired in 1979.
Eli Whiteley died of a heart attack on December 2, 1986. To honor the war hero, faculty members and alumnus of Texas A&M arranged for his flagged-draped coffin be placed in the rotunda of the Systems Administration Building for viewing by the campus community. This honor had only formerly been bestowed upon Earl Rudder, a president of the university. Whiteley was buried with full military honors at College Station City Cemetery.
Texas A&M has honored Eli Whiteley in numerous ways. The university dedicated a memorial park on campus to his memory and also renamed a dormitory Eli L. Whiteley Hall. His Medal of Honor is located in the Sam Houston Sanders Corps of Cadets Center along with a bronze plaque of the war hero.
Henry C. Dethloff with John A. Adams, Jr., Texas Aggies Go to War: in Service of their Country (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2006). Houston Chronicle. December 3, 1986. James R. Woodall, Texas Aggie Medals of Honor: Seven Heroes of World War II (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2010).
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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.Handbook of Texas Online, Henry Franklin Tribe, "WHITELEY, ELI LAMAR," accessed August 15, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fwhkr.
Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on November 22, 2013. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.