Freedom Fighters: B.R. Whitehead - KLTV.com - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

Freedom Fighters: B.R. Whitehead

ATHENS, TX (KLTV) -

B.R. Whitehead says he not only had to be over six feet tall to get into the Marine Corps, he also had to have a parent sign his papers since he was only 17-years-old.

Whitehead enlisted in July of 1941, five months before the Japenese attack on Pearl Harbor. During the invasion of Guadalcanal, Japanese suicide planes attacked Whitehead's ship even before he hit the beach.

A sailor manning the ship's heavy guns was able to shoot down an enemy plane headed straight for Whitehead's battle station.

"It wasn't a hundred yards from us where he went into the water," Whitehead recalled. 

The Island of Tarawa was Whitehead's next big invasion, and it seemed for a while that it might be his last. Whitehead's Higgins boat, carrying his 14 man squad ashore, got hung up on a reef, providing a perfect target for Japenese mortars.

"As far as I know, I'm the only survivor," Whitehead said.

Whitehead made his way ashore among the carnage.

"I pushed arms and legs and bodies all trying to get ashore," Whitehead remembered.

Whitehead didn't know until he got back to his ship four days later that he had been wounded by shrapnel from the mortar.

"This is where I got shot," Whitehead said.

It was during the battle for Tarawa that Whitehead was wounded a second time. The fight began as the Marines were rounding up a group of civilians.

"There was a Jap dressed up in civilian clothes," Whitehead said.

Whitehead's arm was shattered by a bullet entering his right shoulder when he followed an escaping Japanese soldier into the jungle.

He was told he would never have use of the arm again but proved the prediction wrong during his years as a professional golfer and his career on the railroad.

At the age of 93, B.R. Whitehead can look back at his service to our country with pride, and yet he's still saddened by the toll that war takes on human life.

"Take for instance Tarawa, 941 deaths, 26,000 wounded," said Whitehead.

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