Cover photo for Paul Wheeler's Obituary
Paul Wheeler Profile Photo

Paul Wheeler

January 14, 1923 — November 11, 2023

Paul Wheeler


One of the last of the “Greatest Generation” World War II Veteran’s has left us on Veteran’s Day November 11, 2023 at the age of 100, only 2 months shy of his 101st birthday.

Paul Wheeler was born and raised in Lancaster, California just 20 years after the Wright brothers achieved powered flight at Kitty Hawk.

His father, William, worked for the railroad and later as the school custodian. His mother, Nora May, was a homemaker. Paul was the youngest of 3 siblings: his half sister Thelma being the oldest followed by his brother Lawrence.

The family would live on the local grammar school grounds in a home provided by the school. All the kids loved Paul’s dad because he was such a great talker, humorist and story teller…an art which Paul acquired from his fun loving father.

Paul grew up and was in the Boy Scouts and achieved the rank of Star Scout. He was also active in sports and lettered in high school basketball as well as football (as a drop kicker) at Antelope Valley Joint Union High School.

On top of that, Paul was a member of the marching band throughout his 4 high school years. He played the tuba and the sousaphone. Paul was also the Student Body President during his senior year. Paul later recalled how Jim Thorpe, some say the greatest athlete of all time, came to Paul’s school to give a motivational talk about his life.

Paul, graduated from High School in 1941 and after a short stint working at a local gas station, started to work for the Southern California Edison Company as a meter reader. In December of 1941 the United States entered World War II so in 1942 Paul enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard and was called to service in February 1943.

He served as the coxswain of a landing craft aboard the U.S.S. Arthur Middleton. Paul would ferry troops from the Middleton to the beach and drop the bow ramp for the troops to exit, often under enemy fire.

The Middleton was among a convoy of 60-80 ships that delivered men and machinery in 1944 during the invasions of Saipan, in the Western Pacific; Leyte, a large island in the Philippines, the Lingayen Gulf, also in the Philippines, and Okinawa.

Paul recalls how 15 of his fellow crew members were wounded during the invasion of Lingayen Gulf. The Middleton had successfully sent troops ashore in January 1945, despite a blistering firefight between American ships and Japanese aircraft. It was not enemy firepower that injured the crew members but shrapnel from American ships firing at the enemy’s planes.

During February and March that year, the Middleton and hundreds of other ships in the amphibious task force participated in training exercises in the Western Pacific in preparation for the invasion of Okinawa on April 1, the last major battle of World War II.

On April 1, 1945, the Middleton’s landing boats put combat Army infantry on the beaches during the first wave of the invasion of Okinawa, a cluster of Japanese islands south of the mainland.

Among the awards Paul received were four battle stars for his service during the invasions of Saipan, Leyte, the Lingayen Gulf, and Okinawa. Paul was attending gunnery school at Pacific Beach, near San Diego, when he heard the war was over on Sept. 2, 1945. He was discharged the next month as a seaman first class.

After the war, Paul returned to Lancaster and continued with the Edison Company. He took up skiing in the local mountains as well as golf. He was always artistic so he took painting classes with local artist Walt Lee. While traveling in New Mexico, Paul fell in love with the Santa Fe pueblo style architecture so he purchased property in nearby Quartz Hill and built a pueblo style house which the family retained until the mid 1990s. He also had a cinder block house built next door where he would live with his brother and father.

Paul took a mythic trip in May of 1949 when he flew to Indianapolis for the 500 with Bill Barnes, the son of famous aviatrix Poncho Barnes, in Poncho’s plane along with his friend Dean Stebbins. The trip took 3 days flying during the daytime using highway road maps. At the speedway they sat in seats originally intended for VIP General Jimmy Doolittle (who could not attend) on the start finish line. Their contact was 1920s board track racer and Lancaster farmer Harland Fengler who became the chief steward of the famous race track.

During the late 40s Paul acquired a 32 Ford and had it chopped (the roof lowered several inches) and the body dropped over the chassis. He souped-up the engine and he would take it out to Muroc or El Mirage dry lake for time trials. (Photo shows Paul on left with friend Dean Stebbins at El Mirage.)

Because Paul was a hot rod car guy, he became acquainted with new Lancaster resident Tommy Lee, the son of the late RKO radio and television owner Don Lee. Paul became Tommy’s side kick and confidant for the next several months, driving Tommy’s Alfa Romeo through the speed traps at the dry lake, flying with him and his pilot in Tommy’s private plane to pick up a Hollywood starlet at the Burbank airport, and visiting Tommy and his fleet of cars at Lee's residence, Shea’s Castle. This all ended when Tommy jumped out of the Wiltern Building at Wilshire Blvd and Western Avenue in Los Angeles in January, 1950. Tommy was 44 years old when he died. Paul was 27.

Paul was promoted to the new customer service department and in 1957 transferred offices within the Edison Company to Redondo Beach. He started dating and would soon marry Lancaster native Virginia "Jake" Jacobsen in 1958 whom he knew since grammar school. Virginia was a secretary also for the Edison company. They had their first and only child in a few years later.

As his son got older and attended school, Paul was able to develop his considerable artistic and creative talents by taking classes at the local community college including sculpture, rendering, and architectural drafting.

During the 1970s, the entire family became active in Santa Monica Boy Scout Troop 2, a three night per week organization which included one weekend campout per month and a summer camp. Paul was an active father within the Troop and was one of the favorite fathers among the boys. He traveled with the scouts on campout weekends and on several summer camp trips.

Paul loved to travel. After his wife Virginia passed in 2001, he went to Europe with his son 11 times (starting in his 80s), each time visiting Italian friends (from years earlier when his son worked in Italy as an architect.) His final trip to Italy was in 2018 when Paul was 95 years young.

The Wheeler boys were also creatures of travel habit making their way to Tucson, Arizona 16 New Years in a row to visit the son's professor emeritus, from the University of Arizona College of Architecture. The Wheeler boys also traveled to Nashville 8 times to visit another of the son's friends.

While in his 80s Paul began taking private flying lessons at Torrance Airport. Paul logged in 100 flights over the course of several years.

His son says his Dad was the most creative and artistic person he has ever met. He attributes any creative or artistic tendencies he has to his father.

The son says his Dad became friends with all of the son's friends so this is why Paul was loved by so many younger people.

Paul’s Brazilian daughter-in-law says he was always "UP" for anything and never said NO to any invitation. Paul always supported any “scheme" his son would come up with!

When asked a few years ago what his hobby was, Paul did not hesitate to reply, “making friends!”

When asked what advice he had to live a long and productive life he quickly replied, “keep dreaming!”

Paul Wheeler was an inspiration and will be greatly missed by everyone who knew him. He will be remembered for his kindness, creativity, artistic sensitivity, genuine interest in anyone he met along the way, and incredible wit and sense of humor.

Funeral Services will be held Monday, November 20th at 11:00 AM at
Halley Olsen Murphy
44831 North Cedar Avenue
Lancaster, CA 93534

A Graveside ceremony with full military honors will follow at 12:30 PM at
Antelope Valley Cemetery District, Lancaster Cemetery
111 East Lancaster Blvd
Lancaster, CA 93535

In leu of flowers, the family requests donations be made in Paul’s name to:
First Presbyterian Church of Santa Monica
1220 2nd St, Santa Monica, CA 90401
(310) 451-1303
To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of Paul Wheeler, please visit our flower store.

Past Services

Funeral Ceremony

Monday, November 20, 2023

Starts at 11:00 am (Pacific time)

Halley Olsen Murphy Funerals & Cremations

44831 Cedar Avenue, Lancaster, CA 93534

Enter your phone number above to have directions sent via text. Standard text messaging rates apply.


Monday, November 20, 2023

Starts at 12:30 pm (Pacific time)

Antelope Valley Cemetery District

111 East Lancaster Boulevard, Lancaster, CA 93535

Enter your phone number above to have directions sent via text. Standard text messaging rates apply.


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