GLEN ROSE – With the smell of barbecue, the sting of the summer sun and a three-day-long weekend ahead, it may be easy to forget the true meaning of Memorial Day.
However, for Sam White, who is believed to be the oldest surviving World War II veteran in Somervell County, every day is Memorial Day. To this day, White is still able to recall the memories of war and, most importantly, his fallen brothers.
“I had several things happen overseas that I just kind of hate to talk about,” the 94-year-old Nemo resident said. “It just makes me wonder why I’m here now and why the rest of them didn’t make it.”
White is a 1939 graduate of Glen Rose High School, where he played football and was a member of the 1938 district championship team. In 1941, the third-year college student, who had recently transferred after two years at John Tarleton Agricultural College – now know as Tarleton State University in Stephenville, TX – to Texas Agricultural and Mechanical College, enlisted in the U.S. Army and made the pledge to serve his country.
“It started Dec. 7, 1941, that whole day changed my entire life,” White recalled. “I was in my third year of college at Texas A&M and we all wanted to join the service. So I left Texas A&M and joined in and went into General George Patton’s Third Army in the desert in California. I’ve seen ol’ Patton face to face.”
White was assigned to the 90th division of the U.S. Seventh Army Signal Corps in Gen. Patton’s army.
“I never took any basic training and I guess they thought I had training from A&M, I don’t know,” he explained. “I went into Patton’s army and then they sent me to school in Fort Knox, Kentucky. I was out there about six months and then they sent me back to Monterey, California, and that’s where I stayed until we went overseas on April 5, 1944,”
After a three week long boat ride from New York to Liverpool, England, White and his division landed safely.
“I stayed in England from April 5 until June,” White said. “My division hit Normandy on D-Day, June 6, and I got there a week later.”
Just as White arrived in Normandy, he witnessed something unforgettable.
“I got into Normandy and our boys were still laying out on the beach there,” the WWII veteran recounted. “They were getting them to St. Mere Eglise Cemetery. They would dig out about an eight-foot-wide strip with a bulldozer about three or four blocks long and dig four feet deep.
“They had our boys in mattress covers and they would drop them in there. That’s the way they were buried. If you go over there now they’ve got those crosses all in line everywhere you look. Those boys aren’t under those crosses. They’re close, but not under. It’s not what a 20-year-old boy like me was used to.”
Once American troops took Normandy, White and his division went deeper into France where they ran out of gas, he said. As his division waited for fuel to arrive from England, they found themselves just south of the Battle of Bastogne.
“They took it over just before we got there. I went through Bastogne right after it was over,” White said
From France, White traveled to Germany, then to Belgium, and ended his travels in Austria, where he would remain for the rest of his time in the war working for the division headquarters.
As a student attending Texas A&M, White completed a typing course which greatly benefited him once overseas.
“I had a pretty good job, I’ll have to admit that,” White said. “Back in those days there was hardly anybody that knew how to type. [In fact,] there were about 400 of us in my battalion. They asked us who could all type and there wasn’t but four of us who could. Then, they placed me in the division headquarters and that’s where I stayed the rest of the time that I was in.
“I guess going to school got me ahead. Knowing how to type got me out of all that, otherwise, I probably wouldn’t have been here. That’s the way I look at it.”
In the Signal Corps, White said he main duties were to lay phone lines.
“[…] With a big truck we would lay the lines and then we had a phone on each end,” he explained. “We used that ‘dot-dot-dash’ deal in the Signal Corps. We didn’t have any radios or anything like that. It was altogether different.”
During his time overseas, White had the opportunity to meet up with one of his friends, Jim Shackleford.
“I got a pass to go to Paris and saw one of my friends there,” White said. “I was his best man at his wedding just a little before [the war]. And I met ol’ Bill Pruitt. Everybody in Glen Rose knew Bill. I met him over in Germany. We had a good time talking about old times.
“You see, World War II was a long time ago. You’ve got to be at least 90 years old or older to have been in WWII. There’s very few veterans left. I just wonder how many are left in Somervell County. I’d like to know.”
White said he frequently remembers those whose lives were taken fighting for our country and not on just Memorial Day. He has taken time to remember those brave individuals each and every day since Dec. 7, 1941.
“I was in the service for four years,” he added. “I’m just thankful I made it back home. I don’t want to do any bragging. I made it back home and I sure wanted to.”
(254) 897- 2282