Where Is Jim White?
J. D. Pendry
Itís snowing like the blazes around my house here in wild wonderful.† The weather advisory tells us to expect an inch per hour for the next few hours.† Itís an unusual amount of snow for this part of the state and it means that I probably wonít venture off my hill today.† Itís supposed to stop snowing by afternoon. By then, if the predictions hold, Iíll be out there shoveling about 10 inches of it.† Iím not too fond of snow, unless itís on a Christmas card or Iím watching a football game broadcast from Cleveland or Green Bay.
In December 1977, I was on leave at my brotherís home in Chicago.† Chicagoís winters are quite notorious.† I endured several of them before I enlisted into the Army in 1971.† I had just returned from a tour in Korea with wife and three-year old in tow.† We were bound for Erie, Pennsylvania.† For some reason, the Army decided that I needed to go to a Reserve Officerís Training Corps (ROTC) Instructor Group assignment at Gannon University.† Gannon is a private Catholic university with a sidewalk campus in downtown Erie.
Shortly after Christmas, I received a telephone call from SGM Jim White.† He was the SGM for the ROTC Instructor Group at Gannon.† He wanted to know when I planned to report for duty.† I told him that I planned to be there on January 15, which was the end of my leave.† SGM White told me that he needed me to report sooner if I could.† Together we decided on a reporting date of January 3rd.†
On the evening of January 2, 1978, my wife, son and I packed ourselves into a used 1971 Buick Electra 225 for our overnight drive to Erie.† Little did I know that we were driving directly into a blizzard proportion snowstorm.
The route from Chicago to Erie is a simple one.† The only thing one needs to do is get on Interstate 90 and head east.† Itís a northern route, through northern Indiana bordering Michigan, northern Ohio and into the northwestern corner of Pennsylvania where Erie sits on the Great Lake with the same name. By the time we made the Indiana border leaving Illinois, it was already snowing hard.† The farther East we traveled the harder it snowed.† I used more than two gallons of windshield washer during the trip just to keep the salt washed from the carís windshield.† By early morning, we reached Cleveland.† My map recon told me that the best route was to take Interstate 270 which should take me around the city of Cleveland and dump me back onto I-90 for the rest of the trip to Erie.† By the time we hit I-270, it was snowing so hard that visibility was down to a few feet and there was only one very slow moving lane of traffic.† I would learn later that what we encountered around I-270 was locally dubbed a lake effect snow squall.† Iíd see many of these over the next several winters in Erie.† We finally got back onto I-90 and the storm slacked up a little as we made our way on into Erie.† I used the Citizens Band radio that I had in the Buick to get directions to Gannon and made my way downtown.† The first thing I noticed about Erie was the huge snow bank along every street, and the pot holes that were caused by the salt, snow plows and freezing temperatures.
As I pulled into a parking lot, I assessed my situation.† Here I was in Erie, PA with wife and son.† No familiar military surroundings, no particular place in mind to stay, and with very little cash.† Asking directions, I made my way to the ROTC offices located in Gannonís Zurn Science Center.† As I walked into the office, SGM White looked up from his desk and said, ďYou must be my super trooper.Ē† Then he asked, ďWhere is your family?Ē† I explained that they were waiting in the car, to which he frowned and responded, ďItís 20 degrees outside, go getíem.Ē† I did, and returned to the office.† When I returned to the office, SGM White was on the phone with our headquarters at Fort Bragg telling someone how important it was for them to get whatever pay I had coming to me soon.† As soon as he hung up the phone, he asked if we had eaten.† He told me that all of the paperwork we had to do at the office could wait, except for completing my travel voucher, and getting me signed in from leave so that I could get my pay squared away.† Following that, he told me that he had several sets of keys from a realtor for apartments, and if any were acceptable, the realtor agreed to let us take one with no deposit or lease in case we wanted to look for another place later.
By the time the day ended, SGM White had my family and me in quarters, we had sleeping bags, air mattresses, pots, pans, dishes, groceries, phone numbers and directions to the nearest medical facility.† He told me not to worry about driving to work the next morning.† Since I didnít have snow tires on the Buick, heíd pick me up.
SGM Jim White continued to look after my family and me until he retired from the Army two years later.† He was not the type of leader that went around spewing out endless rhetoric about caring for and leading soldiers.† He let his actions speak and they spoke volumes.† He lost his wife to cancer not too long before his retirement.† On his last day in the Army, he came to work in Blues.† We had a ceremony in the Colonelís office to farewell him.† He didnít have much to say, except that he was going to miss the Army.††† The day he left, he and his daughter loaded into his station wagon and headed home for Alabama.
I saw him again a few years later while a Drill Sergeant at Fort McClellan.† He told me he had remarried and that he was teaching High School ROTC.†† He was at Fort McClellan for a ROTC Camp. He was the same SGM White I remembered.† Most of our conversation consisted of him telling me how proud of me he was and asking me about my family.† We reminisced some about Erie, itís weather and my first day there.
I hope you donít mind my story telling, but as you look around the Army today itís easy to find those who will spout much passionate rhetoric about what it takes to care for and lead soldiers.† Unfortunately, their actions do not always match their words.† We need more leaders like Jim White whose leadership was more about doing than talking and more about others than self.
Copyright 2000 James D. Pendry All Rights Reserved