Shipmates remember veteran who died in Hurricane Nicole in Cocoa

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Tom Whittles has spent much of his life on the water.

The 68-year-old Cape Canaveral man, who was pulled from his yacht at Lee Wenner Park in Cocoa during Hurricane Nicole on Nov. 10 by firefighters and pronounced dead at a local hospital, has served more than 40 years in the navy.

He is remembered by his former shipmates as a patriot, a shipmate, and a selfless friend.

“As a friend, he was just the best,” said Kevin Williamsonn of Beaufort, South Carolina.

“He was instrumental in helping my son-in-law enter the Navy as a surface warfare officer after graduating from the University of Michigan. …Tom had the effect on people that if he supported you, you made it a point to represent him well.

Whittles, who retired as a special intelligence duty officer in 2013, joined the Navy in 1972 as a quartermaster, serving in the Mediterranean.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Whittles was assigned to many positions, including Photo Reconnaissance Officer, Air Intelligence Officer, Targeter, Marine Analyst and Resource Sponsor.

After September 11, 2001, he served in a central command post in Tampa for active combat areas in Southwest Asia. He was then deployed to Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar as Commander of the Joint Intelligence Operations Center.

He retired from civilian service in 2016. Whittles’ cause of death has not been determined, although it does not appear to be related to the hurricane, Brevard’s medical examiners office said Friday.

Mike Barg met Whittles when Barg joined the Naval Reserve in 1984 and later worked with him at the Pentagon. Barg said they worked “seamlessly together” and recalled that Whittles had reached the highest levels of government civilian service.

First responders salute as an American flag is unfurled at the Pentagon in Washington, Sunday, Sept. 11, 2022, at sunrise on the morning of the 21st anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Whittles was there when the Pentagon was hit on 9/11.

“Tom was at the Pentagon when he was attacked by the plane,” Barg said. “He wasn’t in the destroyed section at the time, but I remember calling his department shortly after the impact and finding out he was fine.”

Barg said that after 9/11 the two took on longer-term orders. Even through the turmoil of war and deployment to Afghanistan, the two maintained a quick friendship.

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“I would often tell him to ‘Get some sleep!'” Barg said. “(I knew) his work ethic first and foremost. It was a recurring theme in our jokes.

After Whittles retired, the two kept in touch, Barg said, saying they “exchanged ‘sea stories’ as old sailors usually do.”

“I will miss sharing these special stories and I will miss Tom,” Barg said. “Great people like him helped make military service in our country the bigger-than-self and expanded experience that it was. It was never about us as individuals. It was about supporting our team and our country.

Barg wished his friend good luck with a common phrase used among sailors to those they will miss who have served with honor and courage: “Good winds and good seas, shipmate!”

Williamsonn said Whittles was “one of a kind”.

“His friendship will be greatly missed,” he said. “It looks like they don’t do (them) like Tom anymore.”

Finch Walker is a breaking news reporter at FLORIDA TODAY. Contact Walker at 321-290-4744 or [email protected]. Twitter: @_finchwalker

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