A Hero's Salute
Whitlock Field dedicated
by W. Winston Skinner
Ashley Whitlock and Clare Whitlock stood side-by-side as they pulled the piece of dark cloth from atop the monument at Whitlock Field on Saturday afternoon.
The skies were clear. A crowd of about 400 people looked on. Clare Whitlock let her hand gently touch the engraved image of her son's face on the monument.
Whitlock Field at Newnan-Coweta County Airport was dedicated on Saturday afternoon. The name pays tribute to Capt. Nicholas Schade Whitlock, who grew up mostly in Newnan and whose family has been in Coweta for decades.
The captain lost his life in Africa in February 2012 while on military duty. His wife Ashley, his parents, brothers, grandparents and several rows of other relatives attended the ceremonies at the airport.
"His spirit will be with those who fly above this airfield," his uncle, Eddie Whitlock, said.
Military personnel, county officials and local citizens also were among those present for the ceremonies. A contingent came from Hurlburt Field in Florida where Whitlock's unit was stationed.
Capt. Joshua S. Stinson, a military comrade, described Whitlock as "the true light that stands on a hill" who cared deeply for others "no matter the cost to himself." Whatever he was doing, Whitlock "always gave 110 percent – never less," Stinson said.
Stinson said Whitlock was "a dear, dear friend" and reflected on "the caliber of man Nick was." He said, "We can take a piece of his legacy and enshrine it today here at Whitlock Field."
"Nick died literally trying to be the best he could be," his father, Jimmy Whitlock, said. "He gave it all."
"Nick had great determination and was very courageous," his brother, James Whitlock said.
James Whitlock also said his brother was a role model. "He was always the best Nick he could be," he said.
Dr. Garrett Ratcliff, Nick's college roommate, said the tribute was "an absolutely great event for a very worthy individual."
"The words we speak here today are woefully inadequate to express what we have in our hearts," said Lee Moody of the Newnan-Coweta Airport Authority.
Several of those who spoke knew Whitlock well. Moody recalled watching Whitlock "playing football in the front yard and playing wiffle ball" at a neighbor's.
Moody saw Whitlock grow "from all-American boy to all man – confident and eager for adventure," he said. "I am enormously proud of him."
The airport authority unanimously voted last year to rename the field in honor of Whitlock. The decision was "to forever associate this airport with Nick," Moody said. "It is the appropriate and right thing to do."
Newnan Mayor Keith Brady remembered watching Whitlock "as a Cougar" playing football at Newnan High. "We're trying in a very permanent way to recognize Nick's contributions to his family, to his community, to his God and to his country," Brady said.
Stinson said Saturday was a "very special day" that offered an opportunity to "cement his legacy as an outstanding military officer."
At Hurlburt, Whitlock was known as "one of the quiet professionals" in special operations, Stinson said.
Stinson met Whitlock in 2008. "His cheerful demeanor and his gregarious personality made him easy to get close to," he said. He spoke of Whitlock's "vivacious laugh" which could "light up the classroom."
Whitlock became "a very dear friend" to Stinson and his wife, Rachel. "Nick always found a way to reach out to people and make things a little brighter for them," he said.
Lt. Col. Robert A. Masaitis, commander of 34th Special Operations, the unit in which Whitlock served at Hurlburt, spoke briefly. He said he did not know Whitlock, but added he does know "a few things about him" reflecting on how he has "looked at the faces of the young airmen who carry on with his memory."