One Marine's mission: To honor a hero at Bates College

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Steven Arango never met Capt. George “Alexi” Whitney, but he still feels a connection to the late Bates College graduate.

Having spent a semester at Bates, Arango understands the commitment required by Whitney to have graduated cum laude from Bates in 2000. But the greater connection is that both men served in the U.S. Marines Corps, though never together.

Whitney was an officer in a recon battalion in Iraq and later worked as a paramilitary officer for the CIA.

“He was a renaissance man with all he accomplished,” Arango said.

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So when Arango heard about Whitney’s death while working for the CIA in Afghanistan, he felt compelled to do something to honor his fallen comrade.

Bates, however, only has a small plaque honoring “Bates students and alumni who served in the World Wars” on its campus.

Arango hopes to change that.

Arango wants to present the college with a bust of Whitney and a memorial marble or granite marker with the names of Bates veterans. He estimates the stone would hold up to 250 names. He envisions its placement along a walkway near Garcelon Field.

Garcelon Field is where the college’s football and lacrosse teams play. Whitney was the starting fullback on the football team and was a starting midfielder for lacrosse.

Running through brick walls

George Alexius Whitney was born in Brattleboro, Vt., on Feb. 16, 1978. He graduated from Brooks School, a private school in North Andover, Mass., in 1996 and enrolled at Bates College that fall.

Known by his friends as “Alexi,” Whitney majored in classics. In addition to his renown in the classroom, Whitney was a standout athlete on the football and men’s lacrosse teams, wearing No. 48 for both squads.

“One of the best guys I have ever met,” Aaron Sells, a 2001 Bates graduate, said. He is now CEO of a marketing company in Boston and is one of several individuals helping Arango.

Sells, who considered Whitney one of his best friends at Bates, was a lacrosse teammate of his.

“He was the hardest worker on and off the field,” Sells said. “He was a loyal friend. He would run through a brick wall for you. I think those qualities carried on into his work in the military.”

After graduating cum laude in 2000, Whitney joined the Marines and was deployed in the Anbar Province in Iraq in 2002 as a captain in the 3rd Marine Reconnaissance Battalion.

After leaving the Marines with the rank of captain in 2006, Whitney worked for the CIA. He was killed during a mission on Dec. 18, 2016, outside the city of Jalalabad, according to the New York Times.

He was 38 years old.

The mission and details of his death will likely remain classified for years, Arango said.

He was the 18th CIA contractor or paramilitary officer to die in action since 9/11, according to The New York Times.

Honoring a hero

Arango arrived at Bates in the fall of 2011 and lasted one semester before Maine’s cold temperatures sent the southerner packing, he said.

A lieutenant in the Marines, Arango is attending law school at the University of Alabama. Upon graduation, he will be recommissioned into the Marines.

He had never heard of Whitney until he read about his death. His short stay at Bates left him in awe of Whitney’s talents — the ability to graduate with honors as well as play two varsity sports. And as a Marine, Arango knows the training required to serve on a reconnaissance unit and then to work as a paramilitary officer for the CIA.

Arango calls Whitney an “American hero.”

Memorializing him at Bates was the perfect location because that is where 18- to 22-year-olds are most influenced about their place in the world, Arango said.

He found an artist, retired Marine Col. Lee Busby of Alabama, to make a bust of Whitney. Busby has volunteered his time to create busts of several soldiers who were killed in action in Iraq and Afghanistan. Arango expects the bronze bust to be completed by late December or early January.

Scholarship fund or memorial marker

Bowdoin and Colby colleges have multiple memorials on campus to honor their war veterans from the Civil War through Vietnam.

At Bates, Memorial Commons in Chase Hall has a plaque dedicating it to memory of those who fought in WWI and WWII.

Instead, the college has elected to use other means to honor such individuals.

“To honor veterans on our campus, we have artwork, endowed financial aid funds, and Veterans Day recognition events each year,” Bates College spokesman Sean Findlen wrote in an email.

Financial aid is terrific, Arango said, but only the person receiving the scholarship will learn of the sacrifice made. However, a memorial on campus would allow students, members of the Bates community and visitors to learn about their lives and sacrifices.

He is seeking a 4- by 4-foot spot, hopefully next to a walkway near the football field for a 6- to 8-foot-tall marker with a bust of Whitney on top.

He described the response from Bates to his initial offer as “lukewarm.” His last response from the administration was an email that simply read, “Thank you so much for the additional information.”

That hasn’t lessened his enthusiasm.

“Some Bates alumni have said to me that it’s been too long for there to be no memorial on campus,” Arango said.

Because of the diligence of Arango and other supporters, Bates may be moving toward a permanent memorial.

“We are also in the planning stages of a more general memorial to recognize the lives of those who have served in the U.S. armed forces,” Findlen said.

He said college officials are discussing with members of the Bates community the potential ways to honor Whitney.

“Different individuals, including a classmate and close friend of Mr. Whitney, have been in touch with various suggestions about how Bates might honor him. We are open to a range of possibilities and are in the early stages of discussions,” Findlen said.

Those possibilities include a scholarship fund and the memorial Arango hopes to place on campus.

Arango said he doesn’t care whether he gets credit for his idea to place a memorial to Bates veterans. He just feels it is his mission to see the project through to completion.

ssherlock@sunjournal.com

Clarification: This story was updated to say Bates College does have a plaque on campus dedicated to the students and alumni who fought in the World Wars. The information in the original story was incorrectly supplied by the college.

For more information:  https://www.gofundme.com/honor-captain-alexi-whitney-usmc and  https://www.facebook.com/HonorCaptainWhitney/

Capt. George “Alexi” Whitney, center, a 2000 graduate of Bates College, served in the Marine Corps before working for the CIA. He was killed in Afghanistan in December 2016. (Courtesy photo)

Lt. Steven Arango is leading an effort to honor Bates College graduate George “Alexi” Whitney, who died in combat in Afghanistan last year. Arango hopes to erect a bust of Whitney on a memorial marker honoring all past Bates veterans. Artist Lee Busby, a retired Marine colonel, is working on Whitney’s bust in the background. (Courtesy photo)

A clay bust of George “Alexi” Whitney, a 2000 honors graduate from Bates College. A former captain in the Marines, Whitney died in Afghanistan in December 2016 while on a mission for the CIA. (Courtesy photo)

Steven Arango holds the bust of Bates College graduate George “Alexi” Whitney, while artist and retired Marine Col. Lee Busby of Alabama works on the details. (Courtesy photo)

A closeup of the bust of George “Alexi” Whitney, a 2000 graduate of Bates College who died in Afghanistan in 2016. (Courtesy photo)

George “Alexi” Whitney, was a 2000 graduate of Bates College, who died in Afghanistan in 2016. (Courtesy photo)

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  • bob Mennealy

    I understand both sides of this issue, but it would seem that an individual memorial could be accomodated in some way