- Associated Press - Friday, February 12, 2016

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Former Indiana Gov. Edgar Whitcomb was remembered Friday as a patriot and a hero during a Statehouse memorial service that recalled his service during World War II and his escape from a Japanese prisoner camp as much as his time as the state’s top executive.

Many current and former state officials were among the crowd of a few hundred people in the Statehouse rotunda for the ceremony after Whitcomb’s flag-draped casket arrived on a horse-drawn caisson in a military procession.

Speakers talked about Whitcomb’s full life, from growing up in the small southern Indiana town of Hayden to his Army Air Corps and political service that culminated with his term as governor from 1969 to 1973. They also recalled Whitcomb’s around-the-world solo sailing trip in his 70s and then his retirement to a cabin overlooking the Ohio River where he died Feb. 4 at the age of 98.

Whitcomb was a man who “lived big,” said Ed Simcox, who was Indiana’s secretary of state in the 1980s and got his political start working on Whitcomb’s Republican campaigns.

Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma held up a copy of Whitcomb’s 1958 memoir “Escape from Corregidor” that he said he read as a child. In it, Whitcomb told of escaping from a prisoner-of-war camp on an island and swimming overnight more than two miles to another island only to be recaptured days later.

Whitcomb gave a false name to the Japanese and was beaten with a pipe before interrogators believed his story of being a civilian mining engineer. He returned to the U.S. in December 1943 through an exchange of civilian internees and resumed flying combat missions as a bomber navigator.

“Ed Whitcomb is a remarkable story because he was simply a remarkable man,” Bosma said.

Whitcomb began his quest to sail solo around the world in 1987 and completed the trip in stages - including a 55-day jaunt from Costa Rica to Tahiti. The trip came to an end when his 30-foot sailboat sank in 1996 after striking a shallow coral reef off the coast of Egypt.

Simcox referred to those exploits by calling Whitcomb “a man who cheated death a few times in his life.”

Whitcomb was a state senator and Indiana secretary of state before being elected governor. His term was marked by his strict stance against any tax increases and ongoing disputes over spending with the Legislature, even though it was controlled by fellow Republicans.

U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly, former Gov. Joe Kernan and former Indiana first lady Judy O’Bannon were among those attending the service, which concluded with military honors and a 19-round cannon salute from the Statehouse lawn signifying Indiana’s status as the 19th state to join the union.

“His life of service, courage and adventure inspired generations,” Gov. Mike Pence said. “… We will never fail to be inspired by your life.”

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