11/23/2017

May 23, 2015: USO Trouper Survived Pane, Ship Mishaps To Entertain Troops


 

This Memorial Day weekend is a fitting time to tell you about one American warrior who never fired at the enemy, never charged a hill, never toss a grenade but risked her life on several occasions in order to pay tribute to those who did. She wasn’t drafted. She volunteered. She also survived two plane crashes and a ship damaged by a mine. Her name is Julieann White and she is my neighbor

Ms. White was a member of the U.S.O. from 1943 to 1947. A native of St. Louis and a dancer, she says, “I wanted to do my part in the war effort as did everyone in those days. When I went overseas, I was not prepared for what I saw when I got there. I had never seen men without arms and legs and many who were badly traumatized. Just like the troops, we all grew up in a hurry.”

She tells of being asked to visit hospitalized Australian soldiers, recently-released Japanese prisoners of war. “I will never forget,” she told me tearfully, “of holding the hand of a soldier who was staring blankly into space. As I sang to him, his expression never changed but I saw tears streaming down his face.”

She recalls entertaining troops in hospitals, on makeshift stages, in stifling heat and numbing cold; performing for small groups in isolated areas and for thousands of GIs in large venues.

“We performed on every type of stage imaginable,” she says. “We often arrived in a town after a long day of travel and barely had time to change into our costumes, much less inspect the stage.”

Julieann White almost didn’t live to tell about it. On their initial trip, the C-54 carrying her and a USO group from St. Louis to the Philippine Islands blew a tire on landing and skidded off the runway into tall grass, nose down. The plane was completely destroyed.

“The V-shape brace used to hold up the tail of the plane when it is on the ground was not anchored,” she remembers, “and flew over our heads from the rear of the plane to the bulkhead. Had it been a little lower, we would all have been decapitated.”

A number of the performers were hurt and had to return to the states. Julieann and three of her colleagues stayed in Manila while they recuperated and then were asked by an all-girl orchestra short of members to join up with them.

During her first tour, Ms. White logged almost 10,000 miles. She flew in transport planes, rode trains, military trucks, jeeps, tanks, jitneys and even rickshaws to get to the troops.

One of Julieann’s fondest memories was in Otaru, Japan, a few days before Christmas. “We were relieved when the 8 o’clock show ended because we were freezing. We were packing our trunks when a colonel came backstage to say there were hundreds of GIs waiting outside in the snow that had been turned away due to a full house.

“Of course, we unpacked everything and started over to one of the most enthusiastic audiences you could imagine. This was one of the things that made it all our efforts worthwhile,” she says.

In January 1946, Ms. White and the all-girl group headed to Japan from Korea in anticipation of a trip home to the U.S. and had another near disaster. Their C-47 suddenly found itself in a violent storm. The pilot couldn’t gain altitude because of the winds. When he dropped down they barely missed a mountain. “For three-and-a-half hours, we sat in the plane waiting to die,” she says.

The decision was made to ditch in the Sea of Japan. As they discovered later, the plane came within 60 yards of hitting a barge loaded with ammunition that was to be destroyed the next morning.

With 27 people on board, only two life rafts – designed to hold four people each – were available and one only partially inflated. Somehow, they all managed to stay afloat. They were drifting further out to sea with no way to be seen but by the light of a few cigarette lighters. They were found by a Japanese fishing that had been searching for them and were pulled aboard just as the airplane sank from sight.

In 1946, the troupe finally got passage home on a ship loaded with combat veterans, only to suffer some damage from a floating Japanese mine while headed to the U.S.

In spite of the harrowing, near-death experiences, Julieann White made two more trips overseas to entertain the troops. “Seeing their smiles and knowing we were making a difference was worth all the effort,” she says.

Today, this vibrant lady is in her late 80’s, still dancing and still entertaining – this time for residents of local nursing homes. Julieann White is the epitome of a Great American. She served her country with honor and distinction and deserves our special thanks on this special weekend.

 

You can reach Dick Yarbrough at yarb2400@bellsouth.net; at P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, Georgia 31139; online at dickyarbrough.com or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dickyarb