White spent much of World War II on ships and in the air
Editor’s note: This article is part of The Inter-Mountain’s Unsung Heroes series for 2018, which features veterans in our area sharing first-hand accounts of their military service.
ELKINS — A local United States Army veteran spent much of his time in the service on ships or in the air during World War II.
Zan White, 94, of Elkins, served as a member of the United States Army Air Corps and Army Reserves from December 1942 through March 1946, when he was discharged as a staff sergeant.
White said he joined the Army Reserves in December1942, where he served for roughly nine months before being deployed to basic training in September1943.
White explained he was working for the C&P Telephone Company when he noticed people were being drafted to serve, so he signed up to join the military.
“I went to work for the telephone company the day I got out of high school in ’42 and everybody was getting drafted. In December I saw a sign that said ‘Join the Army Reserves’ down on Davis (Avenue). I was an installer repairman with the telephone company and it was cold in December, out there installing telephones and working on them,” he said. “So, I went over to the Army Reserves — it was at the unemployment office — and I said, ‘If I join the Army Reserves is that inside?’ and they said ‘Yes,’ so I signed up.”
During his time in the Army Reserves, White received electricity and pre-radar training.
When White was placed on active duty in September 1943, he was sent to Florida for basic training.
“There was something very unusual about my basic training. It was in Miami Beach, Florida,” he said. “We stayed in a hotel for basic training and I learned it’s very hot in Florida in September. People passed out during drills down there in Miami, it was so hot.”
White said he was sent to Camp Murphy, Florida, where he spent three months in radar school, learning to repair radar systems. He then spent three months in Warner-Robbins, Georgia.
“I learned to be an airborne radar repairman in there,” he said. “Airborne radar is what I was in the service.”
White then made stops at Air Force bases in Syracuse, New York, and Louisville, Kentucky, where he furthered his training.
“The main thing I did is, they trained pilots at both those places to fly airplanes and my job was to train the people on the airplanes how to read the radar and how to read LORAN — long range navigation,” he said. “The planes I was flying in, they were teaching the pilots how to fly, how to land and how to take off, so we’d take off and I would have to stay in the air for three hours sometimes. They would take off, go around and land, then without stopping take off again.”
He shared a story of one pilot he was flying with who hit the ground so hard it damaged the propeller of the air craft.
“At one of those places, I remember a pilot that was learning that bounced the plane so hard when he hit, practicing and being trained, the plane tilted and when we got back and stopped, part of the propeller was chewed off where it had hit the ground,” he said. “Another place, the pilot decided he couldn’t make it, put on the brakes at the end of the roadway, crossed the road and went down over a bank and stopped. The plane was sticking straight up in the air. I didn’t enjoy that flight.”
After roughly three months serving on a 400-foot long ship as an airborne radar repairman as part of the sixth aircraft repair unit, floating division, in Mobile, Alabama, on Feb. 2, 1945 — his 21st birthday — White was sent overseas to the Philippines.
“We left for overseas on Feb. 2, 1945. I remember that because I became a man that day, I was 21 years old that day. I left for overseas and we went to the Philippines and the first place we went was an island called Palawan,” White said. “The airport there had been bombed out and we were the repair unit for that airport. The only time I ever got a little bit worried when I was there is when I saw a Japanese fighter plane go over. That is the only thing I ever saw that had to do with fighting the war. He didn’t bomb us or anything, he was floating pretty high and went on.”
In August 1945, White and another man traveled to Manila, the capital of the Philippines, and while they were there the war ended. He explained his ship was sent to Yokohama, Japan; however, they stayed in Manila to attend warrant officer school.
After finishing their schooling, the pair traveled to Yokohama in an effort to re-join their unit.
“We finished our warrant officer testing and we had to figure out how to get to Yokohama from Manila, Philippines. Did you ever try hitchhiking on airplanes?” White asked with a laugh. “When we finished we went up to Clark Field, which is a few miles north of Manila, and got a plane. It wasn’t going to Yokohama, though. That plane went to Okinawa (Japan). Then we found another place that finally was going to Yokohama.
“We hitchhiked to Okinawa and then to Yokohama. We went out to the bay there and our ship wasn’t there, so there we were in Yokohama and the war had only been over about a week. It was kind of scary but the Japanese people were just the opposite. If they saw us walking down the street they would run in the door and hide,” he continued. “We had a hard time finding a place to eat and sleep.”
White said after roughly a week of searching, they found one of the boats belonging to the fifth aircraft repair unit and learned the ship belonging to the sixth unit, his unit, had caught fire.
“That’s when I found out our ship left Manila, when we stayed there to go to warrant officer school, and caught on fire. It went into Subic Bay in the Philippines and had to be repaired,” he said. “About a week later it finally showed up so we went out and there was our ship. We were back on the ship. We were on that ship doing nothing until they decided in March (1946) to discharge us, so we flew from Yokohama to the state of Washington.”
White was born in Job and graduated from Elkins High School in 1942 as class president and valedictorian.
After his time in the service, he went back to work at C&P Telephone Company until his retirement in 1982. While working for the telephone company, White transferred to Morgantown within the company and earned a degree from West Virginia University in electrical engineering. He graduated in 1950.
White and his late wife, Sarah, had three sons — Zan Jr., Ben and Bob.