White entered the military after receiving “that Dear John letter” from the Selective Service System in 1943 and being ordered to Fort Oglethorpe, Ga., for processing.
“They wanted to put me on a submarine because I was too little to carry a pack like a Marine would, but I said, ‘No way!’” he recalled.
As luck would have it, he had learned semaphore and Morse code as Boy Scout. A chief petty officer saw him signaling another former Boy Scout and asked him if he wanted to go to signalman school.
The 18-year-old sailor was eventually assigned to the USS Hendry (APA 118). According to the Naval Historical Center, the Hendry was one of 117 attack transports of the 6,873-ton Haskell class built to a modified Victory ship design at Portland, Ore. She was commissioned in September 1944 and after shakedown training, the ship arrived at Pearl Harbor in October for additional training.
Hendry departed Pearl Harbor in January 1945 to join the Iwo Jima invasion fleet at Saipan in February and took part in the initial assault on Iwo Jima.
The young signalman, two gunners, a boatswain and one officer were assigned to one of the small landing crafts attached to the Hendry.
“I led the boats from my ship to the island,” White said. “We more or less cruised up and down (the shoreline) showing them where to take the supplies.”
He recalled the landing crafts leaving the ship in a straight line toward the beach at Iwo Jima. About halfway between the ship and their destination, he gave the signal to open up a “V” which meant for one craft to veer to the left and the next in line to the right.
“Then I would give them another signal and that meant all of them were supposed to hit the beach at the same time,” he said. “We had to stay out there all day and all night. You couldn’t set down or anything because of the water in the boat. All night long, Battleship Missouri was bombing that place. They brought us a bologna sandwich and warm coffee the next day.”
The fighting on the small volcanic island was fierce and treacherous.
“There were caves all over that place. Some of the Marines had flamethrowers. They (Japanese) were hiding in there. They’d come running out on fire and some of the guys would shoot them. They were already burned anyhow,” he said.
On the fourth day of the invasion, White watched through binoculars as six Marines raised the American flag on Mount Suribachi.
“The officer let me look through the binoculars,” he said. “We went back to the ship the next day and we left from there with wounded Marines because we had doctors. Twelve Marines died while they were on my ship. They had a small service on the fantail. They had an honor guard and blowed ‘Taps.’ They raised that board they had that guy on, wrapped in canvas, they had a flag over it … and over the side he went … it kind of made me sad, real sad … some of them guys might have been on the landing craft I was on. I will never forget that, never.”
After six days off the beachhead unloading troops and supplies, Hendry returned to Saipan to prepare for the Okinawa invasion.
At Okinawa, Hendry participated in the initial landings and remained offshore for the next 10 days supporting the operation. Hendry returned to Saipan, then sailed, via Guam, to San Pedro, Calif., where she arrived in early August 1945.
“When the war was over, we were docked there in Saipan. I saw a signal light blinking on the main ship where the admiral was. I took the message. It said, ‘Return to San Francisco at your own convenience.’ I took the message down to the captain and he had a big smile on his face.”
After the Japanese surrender, Hendry sailed from the West Coast, embarked occupation troops in the Philippines, and delivered them to Japan in October.
She then carried out a "Magic Carpet" voyage, returning troops from the Philippines to San Francisco in November. After a voyage to Pearl Harbor and back, Hendry departed San Diego for the East Coast in January 1946. She was decommissioned at Norfolk in February, and in March 1946, she was delivered to the Maritime Commission, placed in its reserve fleet, and stricken from the Navy List. She was sold for scrapping in 1973.
“They wanted me to stay in but that was the first time I’d been away from my mother,” he said. “But, I wouldn’t take a million dollars for my experience.”