Ex-STIC Internee, who became Governor of Indiana, dies at age 98

Edgar Whitcomb in uniform, 1940

Edgar Whitcomb in uniform, 1940

From an Associated Press article, “former Indiana Governor Edgar Whitcomb, who escaped from a Japanese prisoner camp by swimming overnight during World War II and then made an around-the-world solo sailing trip while in his 70s, has died at age 98.

The Republican small-town lawyer, who was quick to veto legislation even though the Legislature was controlled by fellow Republicans, died on Thursday, according to his daughter, Patricia Whitcomb. He began a years long quest around the world in 1987, more than a decade after leaving office, that included seeing his sailboat sink off the coast of Egypt.

“Governor Ed Whitcomb was a great man whose life of courage, service and adventure inspired generations of Hoosiers and he will be deeply missed,” Gov. Mike Pence said in a statement Thursday, adding that the former governor died at his home near the Ohio River community of Rome, Indiana.

Whitcomb was born in the southern Indiana town of Hayden and was a student at Indiana University before enlisting in the Army Air Corps in 1940, becoming a navigator for B-17 bombers.

He wrote in a memoir [Escape from Corregidor] that he was stationed at a base in the Philippines when Japanese aircraft struck there hours after the December 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. He was among several thousand troops captured and imprisoned on the small island of Corregidor, from which he and another American escaped by swimming overnight more than 2 miles to Bataan only to be recaptured days later.”

Courtesy of Wikipedia.com: Edgar 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 Philippines Campaign, 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 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, but 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 Patricia Dolfuss on May 10, 1953, and the couple had five children. Served as governor of Indiana from 1969-1973.

Robert Fred Johnson was the alias of Edgar D. Whitcomb, a POW escapee, who was on a B-17 aircrew for the U.S. Army Air Force. See “The Amazing Story of Edgar Whitcomb” which appears in Captives of Empire, 2006, by Greg Leck, page 301. He was repatriated aboard the S.S. Gripsholm in 1943.

See book Profiles in Survival: The Experiences of American POWs in the Philippines during World War II, pages 491-584, by John C. Shively, 2011.