Family and Military Career
Whitcomb was born on November 6, 1917 in Hayden, Indiana, the second child and first son of John Whitcomb and Louise Doud Whitcomb. An outgoing and athletic youth, he was a member of his high school basketball team. He entered Indiana University in 1939 to study law, but quit school to join the military at the outbreak of World War II.
He enlisted in the United States Army Air Corps in 1940 and was deployed to the Pacific Theater. He was commissioned as a Lieutenant in 1941 and made an aerial navigator. He served two tours of duty in the Philippines and was promoted to Second Lieutenant. During the Battle of the Philippines, Whitcomb's base was overrun; he was captured by the Japanese and was beaten and tortured by his captors, but was able to escape. Recaptured a few days later, he escaped a second time and was hunted for several more days but was able to evade his pursuers. He escaped by swimming all night through shark-infested waters to an island unoccupied by the Japanese army. He made contact with the Filipino resistance and fought with them for two years, losing his vision in one eye, severe hearing loss, and injuring his back in the progress. He was eventually able to secure passage to China under an assumed name where he made contact with the United States Army and was repatriated in December 1943. He wrote a book about his experience entitled Escape from Corregidor, published in 1958. He was discharged from active duty in 1946, though he remained in the reserve military forces until 1977 holding the rank of colonel.
Following the war, he returned to and graduated from Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law. He met and married to Patricia Dolfus on May 10, 1953 and the couple had five children.
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