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Hampton Roads Community News

Five Brothers Who Served To Secure American Democracy

By Leonard E. Colvin
Chief Reporter
New Journal and Guide

  It’s the 101st year that we show our appreciation for the military service of the millions of men and women on Veterans Day.

  At 16 million, WWII veterans were the largest group  of service members who fought to protect democracy and freedom from fascism in Europe and the South Pacific.

    Airmen,  soldiers, sailors, and marines, male and female, served during WWII, and 389,292 are still living.

  But according to the Veterans Administration (VA),  the deaths of 370 per day are chipping away at the remaining number of war heroes dubbed the “Greatest Generation”.

    The youngest of them today are in their mid-80s; the oldest over 100-plus.

  There were 1.5  million African Americans who served during WWII.

Five of those Black vets were the White Brothers: Scipio, Luther, William, Freddie, and Theodore White.

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  Scipio, Theodore, and William are still living.

William White lives in Virginia Beach. He served  in the Navy during WWII, but also the Korean and Vietnam Conflicts until retiring in 1969.

  Scipio White, a WWII Army veteran, is the oldest and now lives in Upper Marlboro, Maryland with his daughter Francine White.  He moved from Pennsylvania in September. Theodore White, the youngest and an Army soldier, served  in Korea. He lives in Monongahela, Pa..

Deceased brother Luther White served during WWII in the United States Naval Construction Battalion, better known as the   Seabees. Freddie White, also deceased, served in the Air Force during the Vietnam Conflict.

      The story of these five men and their family reflects multiple chapters of the African American  history book.

The descendants of slaves, born under segregation, they served their country during Jim Crow and later, during more progressive times.

  The White Family joined millions of African American  families to migrate from the farmland of  segregated rural Georgetown, South Carolina to  the steel mills near  Monessen,  Pennsylvania in 1922.

  During WWII and the Korean conflict, these men fought for democracy overseas but returned home  to dehumanizing racial and social segregation.

        In 1943 when he was drafted, William White of Virginia Beach, wanted to serve in the Army with his brothers.

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  But  his I.Q. was too high and he was dispatched to Great  Lakes, Illinois to train  as a Yeoman, sailors who are administrative assistants to officers in the Navy.

  But despite his high I.Q. the racist U.S. military did not respect it.

  Most Blacks, regardless of their “rate” or career specialty, were messmen, cooks, or  laborers.

  “I was stationed at an Ammunition Depot in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii,” recalled William White, who is now 96.  “Instead of working as a Yeoman in the office, they put me in charge of a 16-man crew loading ammunition on to boxcars, where it would be moved to nearby ships by train. I was too outspoken about how my fellow Black sailors were treated.”

    His  speaking out against the abuse of fellow Black sailors kept him out of the unit’s  administrative  office working as  a Yeoman.

    “I told a white officer who kicked one of my guys because he was resting after a long period of work,” White recalls, “I told him, he would go home in a coffin if he did it again.”

  “That’s when they put me back in the office, ironically,” he said. 

  White recalls the Jewish sailors were subject to Jim Crow, too. They were forced to sit with Black sailors in the movie house and mess hall.

  When  the war was over, it was back to Pennsylvania and a Pittsburgh steel mill where he  worked as a laborer.

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    But when the Korean Conflict kicked off, it was back into the Navy for William White.

  “After being outfitted  and retrained at the Philly Naval Station, it was  off to Fort Detrick, near Frederick, Maryland.  Somebody put in the wrong racial code. When I arrived for duty, instead of a white sailor, it was me. They  called D.C. to get me transferred, but that did not work. I was there for three years.”

  Fort Detrick was  the Army’s main chemical munitions depot. Outside the gates, in the city of Frederick, the white residents were friendly and were not used to seeing a Black man in a naval uniform.

  “On the base, the officers used the n-word every breath,” William White recalled.  “They were trying to get you angry enough to confront them verbally or physically, so I remained calm.”

  White, who had a car, could travel to the Black sections of Baltimore and  D.C. where he was welcomed.

  He was three hours from his home in Pittsburgh so he commuted there every weekend, if not on duty.

  He married and the couple moved  to a rural area outside of Frederick because there was no housing for Black military families.

  His next duty station was aboard a reserve ship. The Navy was selling items to the Chinese before diplomatic ties eroded in the mid-1950s, at Charleston, South Carolina.

     “(Charleston) was really bad,”  said William White. “We could not find any housing in the city. So an Army Chaplain who had friends in the city helped us get a room in a boarding house owned by a church his friend  pastored.”

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In 1959, White considered leaving the Navy but re-enlisted and  got a duty assignment to San Diego  at the Reserve Training Center. There, the racial climate was less harsh. He was allowed to work as a Yeoman and  admin official.

      One of his last duty stations  was at the Norfolk Naval Station, this time as the Admiral’s yeoman. Again they  had assumed he was  white. He was reassigned to another office.

  After retirement in 1969,  White got a   job at the Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority,  (NRHA) managing its public housing communities.

  By the late 70s, he moved his family  from Norfolk to Virginia Beach to the Indian Lakes area of Kempsville. He had a part-time gig  at the Naval Exchange, worked until the late-80s before retiring.

  His wife passed a decade ago.

***

    By 1937 when Scipio White, the firstborn of seven sons, graduated from Monessen High School, he was working at G.C. Murphy’s five and dime store.

    In December of 1941, Pearl Harbor was attacked. 

    Drafted to serve in the U.S. Army because of his aptitude,  after basic training, he earned a seat in  Officers Candidates School (OCS) at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.

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    Scipio White was in a class of 124  soldiers who spent two months learning to command men and organize material to fight his nation’s enemy.

    He was trained as an artillery Battery Commander and   eventually assigned to the 594th Infantry unit  of the 93rd Division.

  White, now 102, was one of  the first Black field commanders overseas.

    He had field artillery training at  Fort Huachuca in  Arizona.

Decades before, the fort  was manned by Black Calvary Units, called the Buffalo soldiers. Many of them were former  Union army soldiers during the Civil War.

After the war, they were deployed out  west  to   fight Native American warriors in the late 1890s.

    White then was shipped off to battle in  the South Pacific.

    The U.S. strategy  involved island hopping from  Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands, New Guinea to

Guam  onward to the   Philippines  then the  Japanese mainland.

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      White found  two armies: one for Blacks and one for White men.

White and other African American soldiers  had to fight stubborn Japanese soldiers and also, entrenched racism  from white American soldiers and

civilians.

    “It was really rough initially,” said Scipio White.

“White soldiers refused to salute you while down the street, there was a general who said that no Black man would ever command a unit under him. They finally got rid of him.”

    Scipio  White  saw his last action in the South Pacific in the Philippines, as the war ended and he was shipped back to the States in 1945.

    In 1948 President Harry Truman desegregated the military. But White said despite the promise for less racism and more acceptance, both did not come for years.

    He served most of his time in the South Pacific before he returned to Monessen and married his sweetheart Frances, who died in 1996.

    Last July his daughters  Pam and Francine joined him in Monessen when the local Veterans of Foreign Deployment (VFD) organized a drive-by parade   to observe his 102nd birthday and service  to his nation. In September he moved from Monessen to Upper Marlboro, Maryland to live with his daughter, Francine.

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     He worked for the United States Postal  Service (USPS)  and served in the Army Reserve where he  rose to the rank of major before  ending his working career.

***

    Theodore White, the youngest of the brothers, was born in 1930. He was  working in a garage when he was drafted into the Army.

    The Army was slow to call him up,  so at his insistence, he was inducted in late December 1951.

    He was assigned to the Second Division 933rd Artillery unit.

    “After boot camp, I was sent immediately to the front lines. We fought Pork Chop  Hill and near  Inchon and other places,” recalled Theodore  White, who is 90 now and lives with his wife, Charlie, in Monogahela, Pennsylvania.

“We provided artillery protection for a British infantry unit,” he recalled. “They did not have heavy weapons to fight against the tanks and other heavy North Korean forces.”

    White recalls after nine months he had no physical injuries but after nine months of action, he hit the wall emotionally.

    Today they call it Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and he had a case of it.

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    “They told me I had to go to the battalion hospital,” he recalled. 

“I grabbed a small bag with my shaving gear and gun, as a souvenir, and hopped in a jeep. I thought I was going home.”

    After processing at a debarkation station, White was one of 2200 soldiers bound for home on a transport ship.

    “Several days out at sea, the colonel called me to his office,” said Theodore White.  “He told me ‘you going back to the States but things are still the same.’ I did not know what he was talking about. But out of all

of those soldiers on that ship why would he direct that message to me?”

    It took days for the ship to transit back to the U.S. But for 22 days the ship made circles off the coast of San Diego. White said there were rumors the ship and its human cargo would have to return to

Korea.

    “I was so happy when we got off that ship in San Diego,” said White. “I made my way back to Upper Darby, near Philadelphia to a military base.”

    White recalls one day, after a brief period off base, he may have been reminded why the nation had not changed during his nine months overseas.

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“As I was walking toward the gate, I noticed a group of white men sitting on a porch,”  White recalled. “Suddenly this old white man sicced  his dog  on  me, and it bit a hole in my leg.”

“The guard saw the incident,” White said. “A medic patched me up.”

    As an angry Theodore White lay mending in the hospital, he contemplated confronting the cruel white men.

Perhaps it was a ploy by his commanders to avoid disaster,  but White was told he needed an immediate circumcision. He was told it was to happen  during his initial entry process.

He was dispatched to Valley Forge  Army Hospital and underwent the procedure. That short-circuited his planned retaliation.

    “They sent me to a base near Seattle, Washington,” White said.

“They asked me if I wanted to go to Germany. I said ‘no’. I had nine months and enough of the Army. Shortly before Christmas 1952, I was out and headed home.”

    Back home,  he landed a job at the Allenport, Pennsylvania steel mill.  An injury he suffered while working left him disabled.

    When he sought to use the nearby Veterans Administration hospital, he, like thousands of other ex-Black soldiers hit another bureaucratic wall.

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    “They said they had no information that I was ever in the Army or saw battle in Korea,” said White. 

“I fought them for years.  I managed to get a few benefits but never full coverage.”

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