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World War II Veteran Who Died Of COVID-19 Remembered By His Son

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Back in April, friends and family planned a big celebration for the 100th birthday of Carroll White of Ottumwa, Iowa. But Mr. White had a small stroke. He ended up in a nursing home. And for his centennial birthday celebration, those he loved and those who loved him could only wave through a window. Two months later, Carroll White died of COVID-19. As we reflect on the loss of more than a quarter of a million people in the U.S. to COVID, we want to take time to recall that each of those lives was accompanied by its own enduring story.

Steven White, an attorney in Potomac, Md., is the son of Carroll White and joins us now. Thanks so much for being with us.

STEVEN WHITE: Thank you for having me. I really appreciate this.

SIMON: Well, thank you for speaking with us. And I suppose almost any recollection of your father's life has to begin with the remarkable fact that he was one of the first U.S. troops to enter Hiroshima.

WHITE: Well, he was part of the - what was going to be an invasion force. You know, they didn't have to have that invasion. The bombs were dropped, and the Japanese surrendered. And his units happened to be close to Hiroshima. And he was really involved in setting up hospitals in that area for our troops mostly.

SIMON: He was a medic, as I understand.

WHITE: Yeah, he was a medic, right.

SIMON: I gather with respect, your father defied orders at one point.

WHITE: Well, that's right. So at some point, troops were being sent home, and he received orders to have all the medicine and medical supplies in their facility to be destroyed before they left. So he and a doctor didn't think it was appropriate and decided that they would gather everything up. And instead of destroying it, they took it to a local Japanese hospital that was dealing with a lot of casualties there.

SIMON: Your mother and father were married for more than 70 years.

WHITE: Right.

SIMON: She died just, I guess, in 2012. And I gather your father lived on his own until he was 99.

WHITE: Yeah. He stayed in the family house until he was in his, you know, late 90s. And then he moved into an assisted living apartment. Yeah, he was independent.

SIMON: Independent seems to be a real word that comes up about your father a lot. Help us understand how he - that independence, that strength, that determination he had.

WHITE: I certainly agree with that. But I think it really comes from his upbringing and the circumstances of his early life. He grew up on a small farm in southeast Iowa in the 1920s and 30s. And really it was a time when I - from, you know, the stories that I've heard that it was a - basically, farming was pre-mechanized state, and they worked from sunup to sundown. And if they didn't work, they didn't live. You know, they didn't survive. So those were his circumstances that he grew up with.

SIMON: What did you plan for your father's 100th birthday?

WHITE: Well, we'd actually planned a big party in the town where he lived in Iowa. We'd sent out lots of invitations, and we'd secured a community center place where we could have everybody over. We had made up posters and all that. So we'd been looking forward to it, and he had as well. You know, we were trying to basically match his sister's 100th birthday party, which had happened two years before.

SIMON: Oh, mercy. You had an aunt who lived to 100, too?

WHITE: Yeah.

SIMON: Oh, my word.

WHITE: And she's still alive. She'll be 103 in a couple of months. So, yeah - no, we were planning a nice big celebration for him. We ended up having to sing "Happy Birthday" to him through a window at the nursing home where he was - had gone in there just about a day before his birthday.

SIMON: What do you take from your father's life now, do you think?

WHITE: I mean, I think about him every day, and he's an example to me. So I just try to live up to, you know, his standards. And I know I never will. But he was a very selfless individual, very hard-working individual. And he did the best he could to make other people happy and to provide a good life for his family. And he did a good job at that.

SIMON: Steven White remembering his father, Carroll White, who died of COVID-19 at the age of 100. Mr. White, thanks for being with us. And if I may, our best to your aunt (laughter), your 102-year-old aunt, too. Thank you very much for speaking with us.

WHITE: Yeah, thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.