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Humble veteran found humor in all situations

Wednesday, June 13, 2012 | 5:08 p.m. CDT; updated 5:15 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, June 13, 2012

COLUMBIA — Gary Whitehead considered it a blessing when he was wounded while serving in the Army during the Vietnam War. It was through this experience that he found and accepted Jesus Christ.

"He was a very big amen-er," his daughter, Sheila Bias, said, referring to her father's outspokenness at Hallsville Baptist Church, where he served as a deacon and Sunday school teacher. He was also a missionary in Haiti, traveling there for two weeks every year for 25 years.

Gary Whitehead, formerly of Columbia and more recently of Hallsville, died Tuesday, June 12, 2012. He was 70.

Mr. Whitehead was born Oct. 11, 1941, in Hallsville to Vernon and Oneida Whitehead. On March 20, 1965, he married Mary Anne (Dyle) Whitehead, whom "he loved till the very end," Bias said.

It was just a few years after he married that Mr. Whitehead and some of his companions were wounded in combat. By the time a medical helicopter came to help them, Mr. Whitehead had dressed everyone's wounds but his own, Bias said.

"He used his forearms to pull himself around in order to help his comrades," she said. "That just tells the story of how my dad was."

Mr. Whitehead received a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart for his actions in the war, but Bias said her father was humble about it. On the Central Missouri Honor Flight, he visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall and the Korean War Veterans Memorial, saying that those who served in the Korean War deserved more credit than him.

"He would say, 'We had it hard, but those guys had it harder,'" Bias said.

After his service in the Army, Mr. Whitehead worked at the Truman Veterans Hospital in Columbia as a surgical technician. This was his career from 1976 to 1991, when he retired.

Mr. Whitehead was a good-natured man who commonly used humor to break tension. His daughter said he often used the line "How 'bout them Cardinals?" in awkward situations or shouted "Amen!" when there were long silences in church because of technical difficulties.

"We always said he could talk to a brick wall because he was just that friendly," Bias said.

Mr. Whitehead is survived by his wife, Mary Anne Whitehead of Hallsville; one daughter, Sheila Bias and her husband, Bob, of Centralia; one sister, Julie Harrison of Springfield; two grandsons, Nathan and Blane Bias of Centralia; one uncle, Raymond Whitehead, of Festus; and several aunts, nieces and nephews.

Mr. Whitehead's parents, Vernon and Oneida Whitehead, and sister Brenda McCarthy died earlier.

Visitation will be from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday at Hallsville Baptist Church, 115 Elizabeth St. in Hallsville. Graveside services with full military honors will be at 10 a.m. Saturday at Centralia City Cemetery, which is located south of Missouri 22 between South Jefferson and Rollins streets. Services will follow at 11:30 a.m. Saturday at Hallsville Baptist Church.

Memorial contributions can be made to the Missouri Veterans Home: Staff Activity Fund, #1 Veterans Drive, Mexico, MO 65265.

Condolences can be posted at nilsonfuneralhome.com.

Supervising editor is Celia Darrough.


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