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99-Year-Old Pastor and Army Veteran Honored as a Green Beret

Some stories deserve a far greater audience then they get. This heartwarming testimony to a life of faithful service is one such story. Early last month, on Veterans Day, a pastor and Army vet was given Green Beret status for his 99th birthday.

Pastor Jesse Whitley served our country faithfully during World War II. Having seen combat action while facing the Japanese when he was stationed on the Aleutian Islands in Alaska and fighting Germans in Europe, Sgt. Whitley was honorably discharged from the First Special Service Force on October 31, 1945. His unit earned the nickname "The Devil's Brigade." In fact, according to the Baptist Press, "The FSSF garnered WWII fame for a 99-day period in 1943 when it operated behind enemy lines primarily at night, inspiring a 1966 book and a 1968 film based on the book, both titled 'The Devil's Brigade.'"

For forty-five years after his military service ended, Whitley faithfully served God as a Baptist pastor. One of his fellow church members, John Triplett, became curious about the retired pastor's military service and begin researching. During his research,

Triplett discovered that the pastor had been "eligible for Green Beret status for approximately 10 years" but no one had been able to complete the process to formally recognize him. "So I made it a personal thing."

With Whitley in his late 90s, "If we don't get this done, it may never happen," Triplett said. "It's just time to make it happen."

Organizing and planning the event, Triplett surprised Pastor Whitley on November 11.

The Veterans Day ceremony was held at First Baptist Church in Pearland, Texas. Whitley lives in the Houston suburb with his daughter, Vicki Cumbie, having moved from Arkansas about a year and a half ago. … In his opening remarks at the Veterans Day ceremony, FBC Pearland pastor David Adams told attendees, "What is about to happen is a surprise to Jesse. He was told to wear his uniform today on Veterans Day, but that was all. Doesn't he look great?" … At the culmination of the event, Whitley received a Special Forces Tab and a Green Beret presented by Sgt. Justin Mayrant of the 19th Special Forces unit based in San Antonio.

Speaking to Baptist Press by phone, Whitley, who was surprised and honored by the event, said, "I didn't know that was coming. I thought, 'Boy, what a situation this is.' And they just kept going. This one said something, that one said something. I thought, 'My land, how many people got involved in this?'"