Naval Home Couple Reminisce About Military, Civilian Life
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
GULFPORT, Miss., May 30, 2001 Visit the DoD "Home for Heroes" web site at www.defenselink.mil/specials/heroes/.
There are myriad reasons veterans decide to spend the rest of their lives at the Naval Home here.
Myron and Velda White stroll the beach across the street from the Naval Home in Gulfport, Miss. Photo by Brian Nickey.
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
"Some guys come here after losing their wives because they're lost and don't want to go live with their children," said Myron H. White. "Some people come in with medical problems, and the home tries to provide the best services they can for them."
Medical problems are the reasons White, 67, and his wife, Velda R. White, 79, became residents on May 13, 1995. "I had a bad hip that had been replaced two times, and nobody was willing to do a third replacement," the retired Navy senior chief petty officer said. "We moved here when we found out that they would do a third replacement at Keesler Air Force Base (Miss.)."
"We were afraid he'd end up in a wheelchair for the rest of his life if he didn't get another replacement," said Velda, who has had both knees replaced, one at Keesler. Velda served in the Navy from 1943 to 1947.
After settling down at the Naval Home, Myron's hip was replaced at Keesler's 81st Medical Group Hospital.
"The surgeon did such a good job that you can't tell I've had a hip replacement," White said. Out of fear of injuring himself, though, he has stopped participating in activities that could cause him to slip or fall down.
"We used to fish a lot when we lived on a houseboat," he noted. "The Non-Commissioned Officers Association gives us money here to take fishing trips. Velda goes, but I don't because I don't want to take any chances with my hip."
White said the way the Naval Home takes care of its residents reminds him of how he was supported in the Navy. The Long Branch, N.J., native dropped out of high school after the 10th grade and joined the Navy at age 17 on Oct. 17, 1950. He went through boot camp at Newport, R.I.
"I joined the Navy to get away from home," White said. "There was a little bit of family conflict and I don't like to be bossed around. The way I was being treated at home, I needed to do something else with my life."
He said the Navy "did a great job taking a snot-nosed kid and making something halfway decent out of him." White said one of the biggest rewards he got out of the Navy was learning how to talk to people without being embarrassed.
"So you can say the Navy grew me up or I grew up in the Navy," White said. "The retired senior chief credits his success in the Navy to "good mentors and a lot of people who cared."
His best memories are of the people who kept him on the right track and taught him how to pay attention to detail. "They also taught me, if you're going to do something, do it right the first time," he noted. "They stuck with me throughout my career and I appreciate it."
Though he joined the Navy just after the outbreak of the Korean War, he didn't go to Korea until 1956. During the Vietnam War, he served on the flight decks of the USS Coral Sea and USS Constellation in the waters off Vietnam.
"I helped launch a lot of aircraft," White said. "When you're on the flight deck, you give everything you have. It was a big job and we did it properly. It was something we had to do and we did it the best we could."
White obtained a general equivalency diploma, or GED, and racked up a year's worth of college credits before retiring with 20 years of service at age 37 in November 1970.
In civilian life, he said he toiled as a cabinetmaker for about seven years. Then he figured out he was paying more in taxes than he was receiving in retired pay. "So I quit cabinetmaking," he said. "Then I started managing marinas in De Land, Fla."
In 1971, he met Velda, who was managing a cocktail lounge in Jacksonville, Fla. At the time, White and his first wife were having problems and were drifting apart.
He and Velda started seeing each other after his divorce and her husband's death, White said. Velda joined White in De Land, and they managed a marina from 1976 to 1979. They lived on houseboats -- a 36-, 40- and a 50-footer.
"When we took over the marina, we sold the 50-footer to a friend, Richard Bach, who wrote 'Jonathan Livingston Seagull,'" White said. "When we gave up the marina, we decided to tie the knot on her birthday, Oct. 6, 1979. Our 'friends' gave the marriage six months, but we're still together.
"I haven't worked a day since 1979," White noted. "I've been living on my retirement pay and doing rather well. We know how to have fun and how to live within a budget."
Myron and Velda are among 14 married couples living at the Naval Home. Each person has to qualify in his or her own right to live at the home. Nowadays, any military retiree qualifies at age 60.
Born in Lubbock, Texas, on Oct. 6, 1922, Velda earned her eligibility for residence by joining the Navy in February 1943 and serving four years as a member of the WAVES, Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service. She said she joined "because my daddy wouldn't let me play pro baseball."
She'll never forget standing in formation for about two hours on a cold day during boot camp at Hunter College in New York City, waiting for Madam Chiang Kai-shek to visit. "Everybody was passing out right and left; not me," Velda said. "But I got my heels frost bit just standing there waiting for her."
Talking about what she did in the Navy is still taboo, Velda noted. "I can say I worked in the communications equipment center in Washington," she said. "We had Marines guarding the fence on the inside and outside."
Wherever she went, security people were not far behind. "We knew them," Velda said. "Sometimes, they'd come and sit with us. I remember one of the girls had a little bit too much to drink one day, and she was gone that night."
Discharged in Washington in 1947 as a petty officer second class, Velda went to work for the telephone company drawing diagrams for the placement of telephone poles and wires. "That's where I met my first husband, who was in the Navy," Velda said. "We had our first son in Washington."
The family left Washington for Atlantic City, N.J., in 1947, and later moved to Wildwood, N.J., where Velda realized a life-long dream in 1948. "I got my pilot's license because it was something I'd wanted to do all my life," noted Velda. "My high school yearbook said I was going to get my wings."
Her first husband was an enlisted pilot who ferried airplanes back and forth to Newfoundland. Enlisted pilots were not allowed to fly in combat, but could fly transports and ferry missions.
In 1950, the family went to San Francisco, where they lived for more than seven years. The family moved to Oceana, Va., in 1961, where Velda taught physical education at a private beach until moving to Jacksonville in 1968.
Her husband served 30 years in the Navy and retired as a master chief petty officer. "He got out and died about a year and a half later, in 1972," Velda noted.
Other than the people who helped her along the way, Velda said her best memory is having tea with first lady Eleanor Roosevelt at the White House in spring 1944.
Velda had two sons during her first marriage. One is dead and the other, David Michael McLemore, and his daughter live in Jacksonville.
Myron has a daughter, Donna Kay Allen of Jacksonville, and a son, also named Myron, who lives in Middleburg, Fla., and has two children. A second daughter died in 1966. His two sisters, Marian Bakos and Margaret Shemelbush, live in Lady Lake, Fla.