GM3c William Byron Whitt

Unknown Sailor

GM3c William Byron Whitt

Bal and Josie Lykins Whitt kept photos of their three youngest sons on a mantel in their rural Kentucky home.

William Byron and Chalmer Ray were Navy men. Forest Grey was a Marine. They were pictured in uniform and looked “very gallant,” a relative recalled years later.

William and Forest never made it home from World War II. William was gunner’s mate and petty officer third class on the U.S.S. Arizona when he was killed in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941. Forest was a private first class when he was killed in Okinawa on May 18, 1945. He was awarded the Navy Cross for extraordinary heroism while serving as a group leader in a rifle platoon.

After Forest’s death, the Navy released Chalmer from service.

The Whitts were from Royalton, an unincorporated community too small to be specifically identified in the 1940 Census of Magoffin County 85 miles east-southeast of Lexington. The father was a farmer and the mother a homemaker.

William was born on March 27, 1919 and brother Chalmer followed in 1923. Tragedy first struck the family in March 1924 when their oldest son, Naaman, then six, died of measles. Forest was born the next year.

After William was killed at Pearl Harbor, his father collected 3,500 pounds of metal and donated it to be recycled for the war effort. Collection drives were held across the country to turn scrap into ships, planes, and weapons.

Nearly 78 years after William’s death, Magoffin County veterans spearheaded a drive to rename part of Sandbottom Road in his and Forest’s memory. Relatives came from around the country for the renaming ceremony in October 2019.


Sources: The Salyersville (Kentucky) Independent; The Courier-Journal of Louisville, Kentucky; Census; grave markers; Navy Cross citation; Kentucky death certificate. Photo courtesy of William’s niece, Barbara Owsley. This profile was researched and written on behalf of the U.S.S. Arizona Mall Memorial at the University of Arizona.

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