A Northwest Louisiana submarine sailor who died during World War II in one of the strangest losses of the war will be memorialized at Lowe-McFarlane American Legion Post 14 on Cross Lake on Memorial Day.
A plaque dedication ceremony will be at 1:30 p.m. Monday at the Submarine Point memorial at the post on South Lakeshore Drive, says Commander Ed Lamb. The traditional ceremony of Branch 98 of the Fleet Reserve Association will follow at 2 p.m. That will consist of the tolling of the bell for submariners on Eternal Patrol and the tossing of a wreath onto Cross Lake's waters.
The lost submarine sailor is Gunner's Mate First Class James Milton White, who died Oct. 25, 1944, when his boat, the USS Tang, was sunk by one of its own torpedoes during what was an otherwise outstanding fifth war patrol. A native of Deming, N.M., he later moved to Springhill in Webster Parish, which is his service home of record. White Hall at the former Submarine Base Pearl Harbor is named in his memory and honor.
White was 29 when he died on what was one of World War II's more storied submarines. According to the website OnEternalPatrol.com, he was awarded the Silver Star and Bronze Star medals and, posthumously, the Purple Heart.
White's widow, Treby, remarried and had a daughter and two sons, who have researched White's loss and heroic acts during the war, which included airman rescues.
"My mother was married to him for about four months, until his death," says Pam Staten Baker, who was born after her mother remarried, and now lives in South Carolina. "What a love story! Of course, growing up we did not know the whole story and our connection to the Whites. My father, Charles Staten, was a cousin to the wife of James' brother, William. We always thought that was the family connection. The whole story started emerging about 30 years ago. We have learned so much since then."
Two brothers still live in the area, Andy Staten in Springhill and Mike Staten in Lake Village, Arkansas.
Pam Baker will not be able to attend the dedication, and brother Andy Staten likely won't be able to either due to work. But three of White's four nieces will be at the dedication, and other relatives may be there as well.
"We're the ones that bought the stone," says niece Delora Allison, who still lives in Springhill and whose interest in her late uncle was rekindled when her son went to New Orleans to do some fishing, got rained out and went instead to the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, which has an interactive exhibit on the Tang. "He came back with the paperwork to do a memory brick for Uncle Milton."
Baker's brother Andy Staten also visited the National World War II Museum and came back enthused with the family tie to Tang.
More could have been given but tragedy struck the family's history when the Statens' late mother's house burned in 2009.
"There was a trunk in the living room that was full of photographs and other things related to him, from the South Pacific and places he'd been," Andy Staten said. "It was a total loss."
The Tang, SS-306, which sank in the Formosa Strait near Turnabout Island, was launched in 1943 at Mare Island in California, and was commanded by Lt. Cdr. Richard H. "Dick" O'Kane, who was executive officer for submarine service legend Dudley W. "Mush" Morton on most of the war patrols for the Wahoo, SS-238. On its five patrols, Tang sank 33 Japanese ships, earning two Presidential Unit Citations and four battle stars. It sank 20 ships during its first four war patrols, and also rescued 22 downed Allied fliers during one patrol alone.
On its final war patrol, Tang sank a record 13 enemy ships, but the final torpedo it fired broached and commenced a "circular run," which always takes the torpedo back to where it was fired. O'Kane tried to move his 311-foot-long boat but couldn't do so in time and the torpedo struck Tang's port side. O'Kane and several other men on the bridge were blown clear, and several inside were able to escape the depths using Momsen lung breathers. The sub caught fire and came under attack by a Japanese patrol boat as well.
In all, O'Kane and eight other sailors survived, only to be captured by the Japanese and spend the rest of the war as prisoners.
For his actions as skipper of Tang, O'Kane later was awarded the Medal of Honor.
Allison's sisters are Shirley Mahoney, who lives near her in the Springhill area; Gwen Mitchell, of Surprise, Arizona; and oldest sister Marcia Kilgore, who won't be able to attend for health reasons.
"We weren't allowed to talk about it growing up," Allison said. "My dad could not handle (Milton's) death. He was the older brother and always took up for him, but he couldn't here."
They know their uncle died a hero, and have read differing survivor accounts of his actions during the final mission.
"He was captain of the gun crew, and when the skipper, Lt. Cdr. O'Kane, was on the bridge he was on deck too, he was on lookout," she said. She said one account stated her uncle was thrown into the water, but no one ever saw him in the water, so we presume he got tangled up in something and drowned." But another account said he went back into the sub, presumably to help some of the younger sailors prepare for the ordeal of being captured by the Japanese.
"Uncle Milton was the 'old man,'" she said. "He was 29 and had been in the Navy 10 years, while the others were young."
She remembers how her aunt Treby, White's widow, waited until after the war and got confirmation of his death to remarry.
"Five of the survivors came back and found their wives had remarried," she said.
Tang ended the war as the service's most successful submarine, sinking 33 enemy vessels in a nine-month career.
It will be satisfying to see her uncle and his boat honored at Post 14's Submarine Point, she said.
"I've kept the stone in my sun room," she said. "It really feels great, to know that he represented bravery and heroism at a time when our country was in turmoil with the war. Those were some strong people that went through that war.
White is by no means the only area sailor who lost his life in World War II on submarines.
Another was a Caddo Parish sailor, Signalman Carl McCasland "Mack" Bickham, lost on June 14, 1944 serving aboard the USS Golet, a submarine funded in part by Shreveport citizens through proceeds of one of many war bond drives held during the war.
Bickham, the 21-year-old grandson of a former Vivian mayor and son of a Shreveport businesswoman, died when the Golet was sunk off northern Honshu, Japan, on its second war patrol.
A list of the hundreds of area dead and missing sailors, soldiers and Marines published in late December 1944 lists him as missing, but a similar tally of the dead published after the Japanese surrender in September 1945 omits him.
Golet, SS-361, has been honored through a memorial at Lowe-McFarlane's Submarine Point.
Golet and Tang were among 52 U.S. submarines of World War II lost in combat, of 250 U.S. submarines that saw service. Of the 16,000 sailors who made war patrols, about 375 officers and 3,131 enlisted men died.
Just more than 50 sailors from Louisiana are among the more than 3,500 U.S. servicemen killed on U.S. Navy submarines during World War II. Those from Northwest Louisiana are:
• Signalman Carl McCasland Bickham, 21, of Vivian/Shreveport, June 14, 1944, USS Golet, sunk off northern Japan.
• Radioman Marshall Edward Cox Jr., 20, of Rodessa, Jan. 12, 1945, USS Swordfish, lost at sea.
• Radioman William Henry Ellis, age unknown, of Shreveport, S-44, Oct. 7, 1943, sunk off Paramushira in the northern Kurile Islands.
• Lt. Cmdr. Dudley Glass Jr., 29, of Shreveport, Oct. 12, 1943, USS Dorado, sunk near Cuba.
• Electrician's Mate Dennis Jerome Gray, 21, of Campti, May 4, 1945, USS Lagarto, sunk off Siam.
•Mate Charles Francis Jordan Jr., 18, of Shreveport, Nov. 16, 1943, USS Corvina, sunk off Truk.
• Electrician's Mate James Mosco Mayfield, 22, of Springhill, Jan. 12, 1945, USS Swordfish, lost at sea.
• Fireman Lester Odom, 17, of Homer, June 1, 1944, USS Herring, sunk off the Kurile Islands by shore gunfire.
• Seaman Donald Polk, 18, of Haynesville, April 3, 1943, USS Pickerel, sunk off Japan.
• Lt. Cmdr. Reginald Marbury Raymond, 30, of Shreveport, April 30, 1943, strafed off the deck of the USS Scorpion, mid-Pacific Ocean.
• Radioman Joel McGee Walker Jr., 23, of Bossier City, April 18, 1944, USS Gudgeon, sunk off Iwo Jima.
• Gunner's Mate James Milton White, 29, of Springhill, Oct. 25, 1944, USS Tang, sunk in Formosa Strait.
Historians still hope to find photos and basic information about the following Louisiana submarine sailors killed during World War II:
• Herbert Joseph Arvan, of DeQuincy
• Theodore Allen Bellard, of Church Point
• Robert Henry Boyt, of Pollock
• George Edward Eaves, of New Orleans
• Willie Flippens, of Williams
• Robert Richard Gould Jr., of New Orleans
• Clyde Monroe Graves, of Pleasant Hill
• Russell Willie Lee, of Amite
• Ernest Peter Lorio, of Marrero
• Harry Frederick Orfila, of New Orleans
• Joseph John Parpal, of New Orleans
• Avery Evander Perkins, of DeQuincy
• Kit Joseph Pourciau, of New Orleans
• William Kenneth Smiley, of Glenmora
• Elwood Rudolph Spierer, of New Orleans
• James Winfred Spradley, of Bogalusa
• Henry Oran Tubre, of Oakdale
• Rena Bernard Tullier, of Baton Rouge
• Ripley Washington Jr., of Wilson
• Claiborne Hoyt Weade, of Leesville
People with information on these sailors can contact the U.S. Submarine Veterans at USSVI, P.O. Box 3870, Silverdale, WA 98383-3870, (360) 337-2978 or email firstname.lastname@example.org; or Charles R. Hinman, director of Education & Outreach, USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park, 11 Arizona Memorial Drive, Honolulu, Hawaii 96818, (808) 423-1341, email info@OnEternalPatrol.com.
John Andrew Prime wrote for The Times for more than 37 years, from 1978 to late 2015. He is the coauthor of a book on Barksdale Air Force Base and has contributed to books on area music. He is co-author of “Legendary Locals of Shreveport," just published by Arcadia/History Press. Email him at email@example.com or visit his website at japrime.com.