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The Greatest Generation: One man shares family's incredible story of World War II

June 1, 2011

The war veteran holds the piece of worn, tattered newspaper in his 90-year-old hands.
He sighs just a little, the kind of sigh only a man who’s seen battle knows. He’s been there, he’s done that, and this little sliver of black ink on weathered newsprint is proof. He studies the faces, seven of them, all young and strong. Here they are, seven members of a rural Clay County family, their faces printed on the front page of the hometown newspaper in the middle of World War II, seven young men who have been sent from the peaceful surroundings of Montpelier, Miss., straight into the harsh realities of war.
Who were they? They were six sons and one son-in-law of Montpelier residents Mr. and Mrs. Joe White. The piece of paper in his hands is a relic, a piece of Americana that shows all six White boys – Theo White, John W. “Hick” White, Odie “Bill” White, Ottie “Bud” White, Irvin “Babe” White, James L. “Mook” White and son-in-law Jack Moseley – as they looked entering the military. The headline keeps it simple, stating “Seven in Service from Montpelier” and the caption simply says: “Pictured below are the six sons and son-in-law of Mr. and Mrs. Joe White of Montpelier, all of whom are in the armed services of their country.”
The clipping, hastily cut out of a newspaper at some point in the mid-1940’s, keeps it brief, giving a small detail on where each man was stationed at the time. Given the uncertainty of war, the paper was unable to give the entire story of the Whites, how they traveled throughout the world defending and maintaining the freedoms of our country. At the time, the seven pictures stood on their own, and full story of the Whites’ sacrifice was left to be told another day.
That day has arrived.

Staring at this piece of newspaper, which has been at rest in a drawer for more than six decades, Montpelier native Odie “Bill” White doesn’t say much.
Beaming with pride, he simply says “This brings back a whole lot of memories.”
It’s a common tale from that era, where some American families would send every son they had off to war, hoping that at least one would make it out alive. But this story isn’t exactly like all the rest. This story does not end on a battlefield or on a doomed ship in the Pacific Ocean. No, this story returns to Clay County and ends exactly where it started. You see, between 1942 and 1945, Mr. and Mrs. Joe White sent seven sons into World War II, a staggering number for any community, much less any family. One-by-one, starting in the Summer of 1942, six of the Whites’ sons and one son-in-law headed across the world, trading their comfortable surroundings in rural Mississippi for the uncertainties and dangers of war. The six Whites ended up fighting in the South Pacific, and Mosely fought on battlegrounds in Europe. Bud was the first to go, departing in July of 1942, and he was soon followed by Bill, his twin brother; and Hick, who both entered the fray in October of ‘42. Eventually, after Theo and Mook were called to war in 1944, all seven were in action, and the odds of survival for the entire group were long.
But that’s exactly what happened. All seven went to war together, and all seven returned home safely, an incredible story of survival in the face of an unspeakable war.
One-by-one, they all said goodbye to family and friends to go fight for our freedoms. And then, as the war drew to a close, all seven miraculously came home, trickling in one at a time starting with Theo and ending with Bill, who returned to Montpelier on Christmas Eve in 1945.
“It was a great Christmas,” said Bill on Friday.
Stoically, he looks up from the piece of paper, studies his visitor, and transports back to present day. For a moment, he seemed like he was back in the early 1940’s, back to a time where he and his brothers were young and the world was tearing apart at the seems. He stares at the pictures that show he, Hick and Jack in their Army uniforms, and Bud, Theo, Babe and Mook in their Navy gear. All seven would see combat overseas, and all seven would survive. Theo perhaps had the closest brush with death, spending more than eight hours in the waters of the Pacific after the ship carrying he and other sailors was destroyed near the Philippines. Jack also came home with scars, though family members said they don’t remember the story behind that one. The other five came home relatively unscathed but understandably changed forever.
“Well, I was never hurt in battle, but when you’re there....You’re always close to getting hurt, you just had to stay focused and make sure you did what you needed to do to get the job done,” said Bill. “And you did what you had to do to stay alive.”
During the fighting, Bill and a couple of his brothers came close to contact in the South Pacific, but their paths never crossed.
“My twin brother and I were very close at one point, but I never saw him,” said Bill. “I didn’t see any of them from the time we shipped out until the time we got home. They really looked good to me when I got home.”

The piece of newspaper, brought to the Daily Times Leader this week by Jamie Middleton, the daughter of Mook White, is a cherished heirloom in the White family, a relic from a time of great turmoil and ultimately, of great victory. It was a victory for the United States, for freedom, for the White family and for the Clay County community, who watched an entire family get shipped to the ends of the Earth and then watched as they each returned home, became men and built strong families that still call Clay County home.
Over the years, most of the young men pictured in that newspaper have passed on, leaving behind the kind of legacy that only a veteran can leave, and leaving families who’ve made this community a better place. Theo had two children, Earnest and Everett White; Bud had two children, Suzanne and Butch White; Hick had a pair of sons, Kenny and Dennis; Babe had three children, David, Dale and Dixie; Mook had two children; and Bill had two daughters, Glenda Nadeau and Nora Gale Bennett.
Of the seven veterans from the White family, Bill is the last one left, and at 90 years of age, he’s still fighting. A month ago, his home was lost in the EF-3 tornado that struck Montpelier. But the young man pictured beside his brothers over 60 years ago, Bill hasn’t stopped fighting. He endured the hardships of war, and now he has endured losing a home, already replacing his house with a brand new doublewide trailer that sits not far from his childhood home. He returned to Montpelier at Christmas in 1945, and he’s been there ever since.
The men who fought in World War II and returned home to continue building this country have been given the moniker “The Greatest Generation.”
It’s not a tag that’s been given lightly, instead it’s a name that was earned in battle and at home. Sitting in his living room on Friday, Bill holds the piece of paper in his hands and smiles. He’s staring at a piece of his past, at a piece of his family history. He’s staring directly into the soul of the greatest generation, and the view seems to evoke pride and a sense of satisfaction.
As well it should.

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