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James Wilmer White
Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA)

West Virginia Veterans Memorial


James Wilmer White

"Intellectually, I know that America is no better than any other country; emotionally, I know she is better than every other country."

Sinclair Lewis

In a press release on May 11, 2021, the U.S. Defense POW/MIA Accounting agency (DPAA) made an announcement that was 77 years in coming: the remains of Pfc. James Wilmer White, missing from World War II, had at last been accounted for as of January 29, 2020. The personnel profile released by DPAA states:

Private First Class White, who entered the U.S. Army from Ohio, served with Company E, 2nd Battalion, 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional). He was an infantry member supporting the 5307th Composite Unit (also referred to Task Force Galahad or Merrill's Marauders), as it advanced south against Japanese forces in Myitkyina, Myanmar (formerly Burma). PFC White was killed during this advance on July 2, 1944, somewhere along the 2nd Battalion's battle lines between Radhapur and Mankrin. His remains were not recovered or identified at the time. Eventually, as part of an ongoing disinterment project, DPAA reviewed one set of remains that had been recovered from a temporary Myitkyina cemetery and buried as an unknown at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, Hawaii. In 2018, this unknown set of remains was disinterred and accessioned into the DPAA laboratory where it was identified as PFC White.

Private First Class White is memorialized on the Walls of the Missing at the Manila American Cemetery in the Philippines.

Pfc. White was born on May 3, 1923, in Roane County, West Virginia, most likely in the community of Geary, to Edward (1876-1969) and Lillie Florence Short White (1884-1957). Edward, with no middle name attached, appears as Eduard on his World War I draft registration card, and Lillie's name appears as Lielia Florence in West Virginia marriage records, but as Lillie in later census records and on her headstone. James was apparently the youngest child born to Edward and Lillie, whose other children included Charles Albert (1995-1954), Robert Lee (1900-1978), Elizabeth (1902-1975), Sue Stella (1904-1943), Lucy Mae (1906-1978), Romie Edward (1908-1988), Vermie Ethel (1911-2005), Della Florence (1913-2005), Ruby Elva (1915-1987), Olive Marie (1919-1981), and Dartha Alice (1921-2015). Names and dates of James's siblings are taken from a family tree on and Federal Census records for 1920, 1930, 1940, and there are some discrepancies. The family tree on Ancestry lists both Elizabeth (b. 1902) and Lizzie (b. 1903), but these entries appear to refer to the same person. Sue Stella is listed as Stella in the 1920 census. Vermie (sometimes Vernie) is Ethel in the 1920 census, the only time she appears in the census with Edward's family. Dartha appears in the 1930 census and other records, but is Dorothy in the 1940 census.

By the time of this writing, all of James's siblings are deceased, but the above listing appears to be an accurate rendering of the household members. In 1920, the family lived in Geary, Roane County, but by 1930, they lived in the community of Chester in Meigs County, Ohio. Edward stated that he was a farmer on his World War I draft registration, and this fact is borne out by his entry in the 1920 census. When he moved to Chester, Ohio, he apparently spent some time as a laborer, as reflected in the 1930 census, but by 1940, he once again stated that his occupation was farming. This lengthy preamble serves to note that James was a member of a large family whose livelihood was dependent in large part at the time on farming, which was so characteristic of World War II soldiers. The 1940 census indicates that 16-year-old James was a student who had completed a year of high school.

According to Holly Zachariah, writing in the Columbus Dispatch, "News articles from wartime note that White had married, worked for the B&O Railroad and had lived in Chillicothe in Ross County for two years before he was drafted in February 1943. He went into service by the way of Fort Benjamin Harrison in Indiana and was deployed oversees in April 1944." ("Memorial Day: After Serving with Historic Merrill's Marauders, Ohio Soldier is Remembered," 31 May 2021.)

James registered for the draft on June 30, 1942, at Chillicothe, Ohio. He stated that he was unemployed at the time, and the person who would always know his address was Fred Bearhs, a brother-in-law, who had married his sister Ruby. On January 4, 1943, James married Mary Frances Hunt in Meigs County, Ohio.

Shoulder Sleeve Insignia of Merrill's Marauders

Shoulder Sleeve Insignia of Merrill's Marauders

According to the DPAA press release, Pfc. White was killed during fighting on July 2, 1944, a particularly bloody day. Although the 5307th was in Myitkyina by May 17 (the northern Burma operation had been ongoing since January), White's battalion had been tasked with holding the airfield and taking part in the siege of Myitkyina. The town finally fell to the Allies on August 3, 1944, but the 5307th had sustained heavy losses. The men of the Merrill's Marauders enjoyed the rare distinction of having each soldier awarded the Bronze Star. In June 1944, the 5307th Composite Unit (provisional) was awarded the Distinguished Unit Citation. A 1962 movie starred Jeff Chandler as General Frank Merrill.
General Stilwell awarding medals at Myitkyina. U.S. Signal Corps photo

General Stilwell awarding medals at Myitkyina. U.S. Signal Corps photo

The DPAA press release offers a more detailed account of White's, and the 5307th's, military history:

In the spring and summer of 1944, White, an infantryman, was a member of Company E, 2nd Battalion, 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional), also known as Merrill's Marauders. After taking the airfield in Myitkyina, Burma, from the Japanese on May 17, White's battalion was tasked with holding the airfield and taking part in the siege of Myitkyina. White was reported to have been killed during fighting on July 2.

The remains of servicemen killed during the battle were buried in at least eight different temporary cemeteries and numerous isolated burial locations. Eventually, all known burials were concentrated into the U.S. Military Cemetery at Myitkyina, including the remains of those who were not identified. In January and February 1946, all of the remains at the U.S. Military Cemetery were disinterred and transferred to the U.S. Military Cemetery at Kalaikunda, India. The exhumation of the U.S. Military Cemetery at Kalaikunda was conducted in September and October 1947.

One set of remains, designated Unknown X-52 Kalaikunda, was unable to be identified and was subsequently buried in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, known as the Punchbowl, in Honolulu, in March 1949.

On July 16, 2018, DPAA disinterred Unknown X-52 Kalaikunda from the Punchbowl and transferred the remains to the DPAA laboratory at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii.

To identify White's remains, scientists from DPAA used dental and anthropological analysis, as well as circumstantial evidence. Additionally, the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System used mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) analysis.

White's name is recorded on the Walls of the Missing at the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial in Taguig City, Philippines, along with the others missing from WWII. A rosette will be placed next to his name to indicate he has been accounted for.

White would be buried on June 12, 2021, in the White Cemetery on Bashan Road in rural Meigs County in a community known as Long Bottom, Ohio. According to one of White's nieces, Sue Woode, it was "a dream come true." "We never thought we would ever see this day," said another niece, [Lillie] Marie Johnson. (John Lowe, "Body of World War II Soldier Returns Home to Meigs County," WSAZ, 12 June 2021.)

Lillie Marie Johnson fondly remembers her uncle (whom the family always called Wilmer), who was more like a brother to her. Johnson prefers to dwell on family memories, not on his terrible demise in Burma. She speaks of roaming in the woods and catching minnows and tadpoles in the river, placing them in washtubs on the back porch. An Army officer told her that James (Wilmer) had the right to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery, but the family couldn't imagine that. Johnson states: "The cemetery where he's going beside his parents, well, the only ones there are kin. He played all over them hills and hollers when we was kids. That's where he belongs and it's where he'll go." (Zachariah, "Memorial Day.")

In his honor, the Village of Pomeroy declared June 12 to be James Wilmer White Day. (Lowe)

Article prepared by Patricia Richards McClure
June 2021


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