In the run up to Veterans Day, NewsChannel 34 is bringing you the real-life stories of those who have served our country from across the nation.
Tonight, we speak with a man from our region who served in the largest conflict in modern history.
Our Dylan Kuhn talked with John Whitbeck about his time serving during World War 2.
John Whitbeck was born in Binghamton on June 4th 1925.
Going through his adolescence during the height of World War, Whitbeck did what he says men were expected to do at the time and joined the military.
“I did what I had to do. I didn’t really have a choice. It was either go this way or that way but you still had to perform and fight.”
In January of 1943 at the age of 17, Whitbeck was off to join the Navy.
After training stops in Pittsburgh, Virginia and Cuba, he was assigned to MacArthur’s Navy Seventh Amphibious Fleet headed to the South Pacific.
He was a signalman aboard a landing ship tank, or more commonly referred to as a LST.
While at sea Whitbeck accomplished something very few Navy men did at the time.
“To this day I was never sea sick a day in my life. I was the only one aboard the ship that didn’t get sick.”
Whitbeck was involved in many operations in the South Pacific including Milne Bay, Manus Island and Brunie Bay.
At the Invasion of the Lingayen Gulf he served under the command of Rear Admiral John McCain the second, the father of the late Senator John McCain.
One of his fondest memories from his time in the Pacific was with his monkey Squirt who he traded a pair of jeans to a woman in the Philippines for.
He said Squirt had a nose for trouble and recalls a time he messed with a man working on the ship’s mass head.
“The monkey went up the pole, Pushed all his tools off and they all went down in the flag bag which was underneath him. This guy came down and of course I was on watch. He says ‘do you know anybody that owns this monkey?’ I say no I don’t know he’s got to be around here somewhere but I don’t know who it.” (26 sec)
After the Japanese surrendered in August of 1945 after nuclear bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Whitbeck was assigned as part of the occupational forces in Japan, including spending time at the bomb sites.
Whitbeck was discharged from the Navy in May 1946 as 1st Class Petty Officer receiving multiple honors such as the Navy Good Conduct Medal and a Purple Heart.
Not long after returning home, he made sure to take care of what was most important.
“Right When I got out of the service, oh she was my sweet heart.” (5 sec)
He married the love of his life Jean Marie.
The twostarted their family in Chenango Forks where John joined the local volunteer fire company and has been a part of it for more than 70 years.
The couple had 6 kids, 13 grandchildren with the 30th great grandchild on the way.
After more than 68 years of marriage Jean passed away in 2014 after a battle with cancer.
John says not a day goes by that he doesn’t think about her, or the men that he served with.
“We had a great bunch of guys, I’ll never forget them for as long as I live.”
Whitbeck says ultimately he’s thankful for his time in the service, and his kids say they couldn’t be more proud of what he’s done.
“I’m not sorry I joined the Navy. It’s an experience that will stick in your heart forever.”
Whitbeck now resides in Greene and at the age of 93 he continues to play golf weekly.
In Greene, Dylan Kuhn NewsChannel 34.
NewsChannel 34 will be airing a Veterans Voices half hour special with stories from across our country and here at home. It will be broadcast on Saturday at 7 P-M on WBGH NBC-5 and this Sunday, Veterans Day, at 5:30 on WIVT NewsChannel 34.