Malvin G. Whitfield in 1948 was the first service member to win a gold medal at the Olympics while on active military duty. A member of the African-American Tuskegee Airmen, he was laid to rest June 9 at Arlington National Cemetery near Washington.
Nicknamed “Marvelous Mal,” Whitfield also had served for decades as a sports ambassador for the U.S. Information Agency.
Whitfield, 91, died in November 2015 at a Veteran Affairs hospital in Washington.
Neil Walsh, a former State Department official who worked with Whitfield, called his friend a “giant” and a “force of nature” during his eulogy at Washington National Cathedral.
“If anyone can fit the description ‘bigger than life,’ it was Mal Whitfield,” Walsh told the Washington Post. “Every day I worked with Mal was an adventure. Over decades, Mal built a bridge [of] trust between the United States [and other countries]. He opened doors.”
Whitfield won the 800-meter race in 1948 and anchored the winning U.S. 4-by-400-meter-relay team. He successfully defended his 800-meter title in 1952.
He joined the Army Air Forces in 1943. He was a member of the 100th Fighter Squadron of the 332nd Fighter Group and flew 27 combat missions in the Korean War.
This article draws on reports from the Associated Press.