Veteran volunteered at 16 to serve nation


Editor's Note: This story, written by Susan Amundson, was originally published in the Oct. 10, 2019, edition of The Columbian-Progress.

Walking through the home of Oliver Whittington you see a beautiful house lined with pictures of family and also a glimpse into the past when Whittington was a sailor in the U.S. Navy.

Whittington was not even 17 when his mother, Agnes Mae Lee, took him to New Orleans to volunteer. He had three cousins who were at Pearl Harbor on that fateful Dec. 7, 1941, day when the attack took place. All three cousins survived the ambush and made it home, but for Whittington it was time for him to get into the fight.

He said he left school midterm, but the principal was still giving the volunteers their diplomas.

“We rode the railroad down there and walked Canal Street to the office at the end of the street and volunteered,” he said.

He said he did his basic training in San Diego, Calif. His training was cut short. A ship had come in, and the Navy needed crewmembers.

“I had a good marksmanship, and the minesweeper needed someone to shoot the mines if they didn’t already explode.”

During World War II water mines were anchored to the bottom of the ocean floor and were set to detonate when a ship or submarine was approaching or if struck by a vessel.

A minesweeper worked by having a float, also called a pig, in front of the minesweeper. The float would have a line attached to a depressor on the vessel and would cut loose the mines, causing the mines to float to the surface. Sailors would then shoot the mines to detonate them to clear the water to make way for the ships to safely make it to land for battle.

“We mostly worked at night and in the early mornings before the troops went in to the islands,” Whittington said.

He said he never shot any of the mines, but he kept watch. He also said he never got to see any of the islands up close as he stayed on the ship the entire time, plus his work was during the nighttime and early morning.

He said there was a lot of mines. “The enemy had it pretty well covered.”

Whittington also said the Japanese soldiers would swim out to the vessels and attempt to climb up to attack. He said there weren’t any fatalities on his ship from any such attack.

Whittington, when asked if he was scared out there, laughingly said, “I didn’t have enough sense to be scared.”

He said he was in the shipyard at Norfolk, Va., when Japan surrendered. As he had earned all of his points needed to be discharged, he was happy and ready to head home.

Coming home was hard for him because at first he didn’t have a job. He originally signed up to attend the University of Southern Mississippi. At night and the weekends he got a job working at Lampton’s in Columbia.

Whittington never received his degree, but one of his Navy buddies’ father had a drilling business so he went to work with him and eventually retired after working 37 years with Transocean.

At 92 years young, Whittington said his secret is to keep busy. On the day of an interview, he was mowing his grass. He also had a booth set up at the Heritage Festival, showing his woodworking pieces.

Whittington was married to his sweetheart, Betty C. Whittington, for 68 years and together they had two children, a son and a daughter. He said he is blessed with many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. 

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