By Leonard E. Colvin
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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
“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.
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.
“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
“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.
“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.
“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.”