Charles "Red" Whittington, honored by the French government as one of the original U.S. Army 95th Division members known as the Men of Metz, died Monday night while in hospice in Columbus. He was 98.
"He was a hero," his daughter Jane Harvey, Monticello, said Tuesday afternoon in a telephone interview. "He was a hero of World War II and a hero of our lives."
Harvey said "Red" was always a good friend to everyone who crossed his path, and particularly a hero to all of his family, who looked to him as a mentor. "He believed in us," his daughter said.
Whittington taught his children and grandchildren the value of hard work and Harvey described him as a great parent.
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"The thing I will miss about him is I could always depend on him to be a good listener," his daughter said. "We always knew he would be our best advocate."
Whittington served in France in late 1944 as a member of the 377th Infantry Regiment, 95th Infantry Division. Renowned for fighting back fierce German counterattacks, Whittington’s division earned the nickname "Iron Men of Metz" for fighting to liberate and defend the town of Metz.
Against heavy resistance, the 95th captured the forts surrounding Metz and captured the city by Nov. 22, 1944. Metz is less than 30 miles from the German border.
Whittington later was wounded in Boulay, France, even closer to the German border as Patton’s forces drove closer to their wartime goal.
In 2014, Whittington made his third and final trip back to France to attend the six-day celebration marking the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Metz. At that time, there were only 16 surviving 95th Division members, mostly in their 90s.
During that final trip, Whittington and a few other men from his division revisited Omaha Beach, where about 10,000 American and British soldiers died during the invasion of German-occupied France on June 6, 1944.
Together with his wife, the late Glenna Whittington, he established a degree of financial independence through both property development and agribusiness. The father of three continued to serve his community as a school bus driver and rural mail carrier until his 1984 retirement.
Whittington was the recipient of a Bronze Star, two Purple Hearts, the Combat Infantryman Badge, the European Theater of Operations Campaign Medal with two Battle Stars, Good Conduct Medal and Victory Medal.
He was honored in 2017 as a Knight of the French National Order of the Legion of Honor, France’s highest order of merit for military and civil accomplishments. Whittington is among distinguished Americans such as Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Colin Powell who have received the prestigious award.
American veterans who risked their lives during World War II and who fought on French territory qualify for the honor, according to the French embassy in Washington, D.C. But recipients must have fought in one of the four main campaigns of the Liberation of France: Normandy, Provence, Ardennes or Northern France, the embassy’s website states.
Former state Rep. Milo Smith, R-Columbus, represented Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb at an event in August 2017, declaring Whittington as a distinguished member of the Circle of Corydon. Honoring the first state capital of Indiana, the Circle of Corydon recognized Whittington for having “demonstrated, in life and in service to the people of the state of Indiana, the qualities exemplified by our state’s greatest citizens.”
In June 2014, Whittington and a group of World War II veterans celebrated the dedication of a bridge in their honor. The bridge, known as the Iron Men of Metz Memorial Bridge, is across Clifty Creek on U.S. 31 with the dedicated name on a sign on the roadway.
As the family makes funeral arrangements, calls are coming in from people around the community thanking Whittington for his generosity to various causes.
"He was always very generous in his heart and with his payroll," his daughter said.
Funeral arrangements for Whittington are being handled by Barkes, Weaver and Glick Funeral Home in Columbus.
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Name: Charles B. "Red" Whittington
Branch of service: Army
Dates of service: Aug. 7, 1942 to Aug. 28, 1945
Duties/job in service: 95th Division, 377th Infantry Regiment, Company I
Where he grew up: Newbern area of Bartholomew County
High school: Columbus High School, Class of 1939
Post-military career: Farmer, grain elevator operator, rural mail carrier
Spouse’s name: Glenna (deceased)
Children: Jane Harvey, Julie Schuette, Charles "Shorty" Whittington