Richard J. Whalen was born on his family farm in Pearl Creek, New York. After graduating from high school, he worked at Bell Aircraft in Buffalo, New York. At 18 years old, he joined the Army during World War II because he wanted to do his part in keeping the world safe. Most importantly, he wanted to keep the war away from his home country.
He completed basic training at Camp Barkley in Abilene, Texas. In November 1943, he sailed to England aboard the RMS Aquitania. On June 6, 1944, Whalen took part in the Allied invasion of Normandy in Operation Overlord. Whalen described running and zigzagging across Omaha Beach, carrying gasoline cans and dodging enemy fire.
Later that year, Whalen fought in the Battle of the Bulge. In April 1945, he took part in liberating the Dachau Concentration Camp, the first concentration camp established by Germany’s Nazi regime.
In 1979, after 35 years in the Army, Whalen retired at the rank of colonel. He went on to graduate from Metropolitan State College in Denver, Colorado. Whalen later moved to Apollo Beach, Florida where he worked as a bagger at Publix. He retired in his late 1980’s, his motto being, “Retire young, retire often.”
Every December, Whalen attended the Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge reunion in Washington, D.C. In 2016, he had the honor of laying a Wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery. He also participated annually in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Washington, D.C., carrying the American Flag the entire route.
Whalen died Dec. 2, 2019, at his home in Sun City Center, Florida, at age 95.
We honor his service.
Nominate a Veteran for #VeteranOfTheDay
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. All it takes is an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with as much information as you can put together, along with some good photos. Visit our blog post about nominating to learn how to create the best submission.
Writer: Rachel Heimann
Editor: Michaela Yesis
Fact checker: Richard Aguilera
Graphic artist: Deanna Cannon