Billy Ray White
AFRH-W Veteran Highlight – Billy Ray White
By Christine Baldwin, Librarian
Billy Ray White was born in North Carolina. After high school he received his draft notice, which stated that he had 30 days to choose a branch of service. So at the age of 19, Billy joined the United States Navy. He did this for two reasons: first, the Navy would give him a chance to travel and see the world, and second, since this was the era of the Vietnam War and he was under the impression that he would stay out of harm’s way. Unlike other branches, which were on the front lines of battle, the Navy seamen would serve far removed from the active warzone and therefore away from danger.
Billy’s draft notice brought him to Baltimore, Maryland and then to Great Lakes, Illinois for boot camp. The corpsman training prepared him for his position on the Pickaway, a transport ship responsible for transporting 2,000 troops to Vietnam. Taking care of the wounded on a U.S. Navy vessel is no easy feat. Treating injured men on the open sea is a special challenge. Billy remembers having to transport incapacitated men from lifeboats to the ship decks, using only the strength from his body. He had to climb a rope ladder to carry the stretcher up to the deck. Keeping the stretcher level and the victim safe and comfortable was the most challenging part of the ordeal. Billy’s first Navy excursion departed from Long Beach, California. After many weeks on the ocean, with stopovers at Hawaii and the Philippines, Billy was flown to Japan to a Navy base, where he was stationed on a construction battalion. He was in charge of tool distribution and he also became licensed as a battalion truck driver. Billy’s membership in the battalion required that he be among the first soldiers to enter into enemy territory. In addition to the dangers of battle, there were also environmental dangers for those who were first to reach the Vietnamese coast. The members of the construction battalion had to negotiate the dense jungles and protect themselves, while building roads and raising tents. The heat, the terrain and the wildlife were all dangers to the battalion’s construction campaigns and the men’s wellbeing. This meant that Billy was in fact in harm’s way while serving in response to his draft letter.
After one tour in Vietnam, Billy requested a transfer into the data processing area. He was sent to Japan, where one of his duties was to prepare payroll for the entire seventh fleet! He was stationed there for three years and three months before returning to the United States. When he returned, he immediately noticed a commonly held sentiment that expressed not resentment, but merely disregard for returning soldiers. People didn’t care about the psychological or sometimes even physical condition of the returning veterans, and they didn’t want to hear of the hardship faced while in Vietnam. Billy remembers that he was treated differently after returning home. No one spoke to him about his experience in Japan or Vietnam.
After returning home, Billy was able to find a job, but it was only guaranteed for one year. So he enrolled in night school, where he was trained in Computer Engineering. After graduating, he got his first job working for ITT, where he stayed for ten years as a computer specialist. After working there, Billy began working for himself in the field of investment marketing, mortgage refinancing and insurance with Primerica Financial Services. As his salary grew, so did his professional merit, which has been recognized by a number of plaques that today line his room at the AFRH-W. Billy has also helped several former military with navigating the VA Benefit program, even giving seminars at his church. In all, his success has given him opportunities to see the world in a bright light, a dream he has had since before his enrollment in the United States Navy.
On a family note, Billy is very proud of his great grandfather, George H. White, who was born into slavery in 1852 in North Carolina. George became a lawyer, a legislator, a congressman and a racial spokesman. If you look at a picture of him, he looks identical to Billy. Billy came to AFRH-W in 2006. He has added so much to the campus, especially with his awesome deejaying at numerous events!