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A-Bomb witness recalls its blast

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

A Petersburg woman's father saw the first atomic bomb used against Japan when he was too young to be there.

"He upped his age to get his driver's license," Ina Fleisher explained. "He got drafted, but didn't want to serve in the Army, so he joined the Navy."

That's how Andrew White Jr., 80, ended up "on LST 959 off the coast of Japan when they dropped the atomic bomb on the Japanese to end the war," he said in Rock Creek Park during a Fourth of July picnic.

He spoke shortly after he and other veterans were asked to stand and be recognized for their service. White stood with the help of a cane.

"The mushroom-shaped cloud looked like it was shot to the moon," White said in an interview as the Independence Day program proceeded.

His face and ears are disfigured by cancer. He wears an eye patch because his left eye was removed with cancerous tissues. His illnesses began more than 40 years ago, or about a quarter century after Hiroshima was decimated by one bomb.

"He didn't come home injured, or there was no obvious injury," his daughter said.

Listening to White, one might conclude that the Enola Gay bomber flew over the boat he was on and that he felt the heat from the blast.

"Well, it's one of the things that happens," White replied when told his cancer is regrettable.

"I could have fought it," he said of his draft notice.

But he'd told the government that he was two years older than he was, so he became a sailor.

"I was lucky," he said in retrospect. "I got in and got out."

One of the five brothers died in service to their country, Fleisher said. Andrew White Jr. was among the four who came back. All served, but not all at the same time. Two of his brothers retired from the military. One of his daughters retired from the Air Force after 20 years in the military. She fought in Desert Storm.

White joined the Navy while living in Meridian, Miss., where Fleisher was born.

Recently, he's stayed with Fleisher's sister for a while.

"Now, he's with us," Fleisher said. "He's not able to stay by himself."

So, what's this veteran of perhaps the most momentous military event got to say about America today?

"I wouldn't want to live nowhere else," he replied.

"I was in China," he continued. "I stayed over there quite a while. They were starving to death."

As for President Obama: "I didn't have much use for Obama when he went in." White "didn't appreciate" some of the president's statements with regard to the military, although, the 80-year-old Navy vet couldn't be specific about the statements.

And still, he added, "I'd been over there... George W. Bush was a fine president. He didn't stay in long enough."

As for 9-11, White said: "I never could figure that out. Don't you think they could have stopped that?"