Atsugi memorial service honors pilot killed in Iraq
Lt. j.g. Mike Odom stood before 1,000 people in the flight hangar at Atsugi Naval Air Facility on Thursday and quietly spoke of the selfless devotion of his colleague and friend, Lt. Nathan D. White.
White died April 2, after ejecting from his F/A-18 Hornet over Iraq. He is the first member of Atsugi’s close-knit community — and from the USS Kitty Hawk Battle Group — to die in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“Lieutenant Nathan White selflessly sacrificed himself above and beyond the call of duty,” said Odom, who is officer in charge of the beach detachment of Carrier Air Wing FIVE, of which White’s squadron was a part.
Before his death, White wrote his family in an e-mail: “Regardless of the destination, I feel I am trained and prepared for any mission or contingency. I have to have faith that those at the helm have fully weighed the consequences and have determined that the resulting good will far outweigh the bad.”
Odom said White, who went by the call sign “O.J.,” was born to serve. He graduated cum laude from Brigham Young University with a degree in Japanese and worked as a missionary in Japan for two years. As a pilot, he earned top honors from his air wing.
The memorial at Atsugi follows one at sea aboard the Kitty Hawk with the remainder of the air wing.
Odom read excerpts from letters sent by some of White’s fellow pilots and friends.
His roommate recalled late nights in the boardroom after flights, eating cereal and talking about loved ones at home.
Another friend praised White’s prowess as a pilot.
White, 30, leaves behind his wife, Akiko, and children, Courtney, Austin and Zachary.
“We are proud of our son, Nathan,” his parents wrote in a prepared statement from the States. “Aviation was his passion. He was a man who lived his dream. He died defending this country.”
U.S. officials believe an American Patriot missile may have downed White’s jet, but the incident is under investigation, according to U.S. Central Command.
Wearing green ribbons in honor of White’s squadron, VFA-195, servicemembers and friends, his wife and her family, fought back tears and together said goodbye.
“We are fiercely proud of Nathan,” said staff chaplain Lt. j.g. Russell Hale. “He gave his life in a cause of justice and freedom.”