Air Force Veteran Robert M. White is today’s Veteran of the Day.
Robert M. White was born in July 1924, in New York City. After graduating from high school, White enlisted as an aviation cadet in the Army Air Forces, receiving his pilot wings two years later in 1944.
White served in the European Theater with the 355th Fighter Group, where he flew as a pilot of P-51 aircraft on bomber escort and interdiction missions. He was shot down by German anti-air guns, captured and interned as a prisoner of war on his 52nd mission, where he remained until the end of the war.
White was interned in Stalag Luft three in Nuremberg, Germany, before being transferred to Moosburg as the allies advanced on the country. After his liberation from Moosburg in April 1945, he returned to the United States, whereupon he became a member of the Air Force Reserve to resume his education.
Six years later, in 1951, White graduated from New York University with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. With the outbreak of the Korean War, he was recalled to active duty to serve as a pilot once again. For the next three years, he served abroad and at home as an officer both in engineering and pilot roles, before eventually returning stateside to receive training at the Experimental Test Pilot School.
It was as a test pilot that White’s career truly took off. After flying test missions for multiple aircraft, including the F-102, F-105, F-106 and F-107 aircraft, White was chosen to test the X-15, becoming its primary pilot. The X-15 was a hypersonic rocket-powered aircraft that began development in 1954, reaching completion by 1958. Designed to be deployed from a B-52 mothership, the X-15 was created to withstand and reach speeds several times the speed of sound.
In the cockpit of the X-15, White became the first person to exceed Mach four, five and six. On July 17, 1962, White broke the heavens when he flew to an altitude of 314,750 feet, or 59.5 miles, over nine miles beyond the accepted beginning of space, making him the first winged astronaut and shattering the previous record.
White’s contributions to the aerospace industry paved the way for future manned space flight projects Mercury, Gemini and Apollo.
He served as a fighter pilot once again after 1963, later serving in the Vietnam War and eventually retiring from service in February 1981 at the rank of major general.
For his service, White received the following awards and medals: an Air Force Command Pilot Badge with Astronaut Device, an Air Force Parachutist Badge, an Air Force Cross, an Air Force Distinguished Service Medal with cluster, an Army Distinguished Service Medal, a Silver Star with three clusters, a Legion of Merit, a Distinguished Flying Cross with four clusters, a Bronze Star and an Air Medal with 16 oak leaf clusters.
White died on March 17, 2010.
We honor his service.
Do you want to light up the face of a special Veteran? Have you been wondering how to tell your Veteran they are special to you? VA’s #VeteranOfTheDay social media feature is an opportunity to highlight your Veteran and his/her service.
It’s easy to nominate a Veteran. Visit our blog post about nominating to learn how to create the best submission.
Veterans History Project
This #VeteranOfTheDay profile was created with interviews submitted to the Veterans History Project. The project collects, preserves, and makes accessible the personal accounts of American war Veterans so that future generations may hear directly from Veterans and better understand the realities of war. Find out more at http://www.loc.gov/vets/.
Writer: Milosh Mihajlovic-Klaric
Editors: Alexander Reza, Alexandra Kaiser
Researcher: Giacomo Ferrari
Graphics: Kiki Kelley