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The last flight: Saying farewell to longtime reader, Navy air veteran Wales Whitt

Some people leave here to see the world, and never come back.

Some never leave.

And some see the world first, then come here to stay.

Wales Whitt once saw the world from a Navy P-3 Orion, a Lockheed four-engine turboprop with a distinctive tail boom for magnetically detecting submarines. Introduced in the early 1960s, it was made for patrol, surveillance and submarine warfare, its electronics repeatedly updated as technology improved.

Joining the Navy at age 17 in 1956, Whitt became an aviation electronics technician, maintaining communications, radar and other gear on the P-3, and on the EC-121 Warning Star, the A-6, and P-2V.

His patrol squadron, designated VP-8, was one of the first to get the new P-3s in 1962. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, it was the newest Navy aircraft designed for submarine warfare, and Whitt flew multiple missions.

In Vietnam, he flew communications missions on P-3s, keeping ground troops apprised of enemy movements.

He served 20 years, became a chief petty officer, and earned the Republic of Vietnam Air Gallantry Cross, eight Naval Air Medals, and multiple unit citations.

Along the way, he got stationed all over the world.

When he left the service, he used his knowledge working for the city of Lima, Ohio, on automation and electronic controls for new computer systems on its waste water treatment plant.

Later he came to the Columbus Water Works, and used his expertise on automated control and wireless communication systems.

He settled here with his wife, Ruth Anne Whitt, formerly Ruth Henry, who died in 2014 from injuries sustained in a car crash outside Savannah. They had been married 46 years.

They liked to bowl, and Whitt loved golf, joining the Bull Creek Golf Club and remaining a lifetime member of the United States Golf Association.

He also loved reading, whether prose or poetry, science fiction or biography. He could never find enough to read. He read the newspaper daily, until his death this past Jan. 1.

He regularly read this column, and sometimes wrote in to comment.

His son Kevin Whitt sent an email to tell me his father had passed away, so I asked him to send some biographical information, most of which is the source for this column.

“The Whitts are all writers, mostly poets and short-story writers,” he wrote, “but one was a reporter of some note, Richard Whitt, Dad’s brother, who won a Pulitzer for his reporting. I tell you this so you know that when I say Dad truly enjoyed your writing, it is coming from someone who knew what they were talking about. .... I know he would have written this himself if he had known what was coming.”

According to New South Books (, Richard Whitt won a Pulitzer for his work on a fire at the Beverly Hills Supper Club in Southgate, Ky., in 1977. His coverage led to criminal charges and new fire-safety laws. He also wrote “Behind the Hedges: Big Money and Power Politics at the University of Georgia.”

Wales Lamar Whitt was not from here: He was born Oct. 22, 1939, in Greenup County, Ky.

The hills of northern Kentucky nurtured his lifelong love of learning. He was 16 when he graduated from South Shore High School.

He was not from here, but he chose to stay. He and his wife had five children, 11 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren. Besides his wife, a daughter and great-grandson died before he did.

Eventually he moved into Covenant Woods, and finally to Columbus Hospice.

His body was cremated and his ashes will be buried at sea off the coast of Virginia Beach, Va., in true Navy fashion – from a P-3 Orion.

Tim Chitwood is from Seale, Ala., and started as a police beat reporter with the Ledger-Enquirer in 1982. He since has covered Columbus’ serial killings and other homicides, following some from the scene of the crime to trial verdicts and ensuing appeals. He also has been a Ledger-Enquirer humor columnist since 1987. He’s a graduate of Auburn University, and started out working for the weekly Phenix Citizen in Phenix City, Ala.