It was a 1964 Chevy Malibu.

Monthly payments for it were $29.90, and for retired Col. Jonathan White, it was an imperative that he make those payments.

"The last thing I wanted to do was have an adverse effect on my grandmother's savings," said White, who pursued a career in the military and spent 30 years in the U.S. Army before retiring in 2003.

It was the military that made White's new car a reality.

At the time, he was a student at Murray State University, a land grant university where there was mandatory enrollment in the Reserve Officers' Training Corps for all male students. White completed two years in ROTC and had an option to enter the advanced ROTC program.

The advanced program offered a stipend of $50 a month.

"College students are the poorest people in the world," explained White, laughing at his own words as he recalled his motivation to enroll in the advanced program and spend another two years in ROTC.

"I accepted for money, but I continued to learn and grow," he said.

Afterward, White got his grandmother to co-sign a car loan, and he was able to get his Chevy. Minus his monthly payment, he had $20 left over, "which I managed carefully," White said. It was good gas money.

At the time, a gallon of regular cost White 26 cents.

"I didn't dare put premium in it," he said. "It might hurt it."

A resident of Hopkinsville, White grew up in Crofton and attended Attucks High School before mandatory integration came along in 1965.

By his junior year, he was a student at Christian County High School, where White, whose sports at his old school included basketball, football and track, became the first African-American quarterback.

He was the only quarterback with game experience when he arrived at his new school, White said. He recalled David Holt, who was the football coach at the time, and Vic Waggoner, who later replaced Holt.

White went on to receive a sports scholarship and was the first football player from CCHS to receive a full scholarship to MSU.

He graduated from Christian County in 1967, No. 80 among 280 graduates to receive diplomas that year. At Murray, he completed a bachelor's degree in physical education in 1971.

University Graduate

At the same time, he graduated from the university's ROTC program as a distinguished military graduate and requested an educational deferment so he could complete his master's degree.

Two years later, he received his master's in secondary education administration; White thought he would be a principal or a coach.

"I had some good coaches in my day," he observed of the impact of those influences in his life. "I said, 'I want to be just like them."

His life, however, took a turn in a different direction.

Just a month after finishing his master's degree in May of 1973, he was commissioned at MSU and went on active duty; White was stationed for a year at Fort Knox and received his initial training there before going on to Fort Eustis, near Newport News in Virginia.

It was at Fort Eustis that he chose the path he'd take for the rest of his military career, heeding the advice of his uncle, Henry White, an enlisted man who had driven a truck while serving in the Korean War.

"He advised me, 'if you have a choice, you might want to consider transportation,' " White recalled of the older man's words.

As an officer, his first job in his chosen field of transportation was as a watercraft platoon leader; he and others learned how to manage all types of transportation assets to support the Army's requirements.

White spent his career in support of combat arms, meeting the needs of those individuals when they were in need of transportation support.

Receiving a promotion to first lieutenant after his first two years of active duty, he was named a captain after four years of active duty.

Ultimately, White rose through the ranks to become a full colonel.

But he noted that his success in the military wasn't really about how good he was but was, rather, about the people he took care of.

"Anywhere you serve you have an opportunity to take care of people," said White, whose military decorations include the Distinguished Member of the Regiment award recognizing his achievements and service in the U.S. Army Transportation Corps.

"If you take care of people, they take care of you," White continued. "Do your job well, and it reflects well on you."

During 30 years of military service, he moved 17 times, including assignments in Germany, South Korea and in Washington, D.C.

White, 70, served during wartime but never went to war.

When asked about his reasons for choosing a military life, the Hopkinsville man noted that both the ROTC and the Army were well-structured, something a teenager needs sometimes, he said.

His grandparents and mother made sure he had structure as a youth growing up, White said, but he noted that ROTC structure is different.

Meaningful Service

He also learned about military history, which appealed to him.

Of his military service, White observed that "it becomes more significant or meaningful after you're in there.

"On the outside looking in," he added, "it's not as clear."

Considering his role of providing support for the Army's combat soldiers, White noted that it makes one feel like part of a family "once you start to do things in support of combat soldiers.

"Nobody wants to leave a family member," he said.

This year the Crofton native was invited back to his hometown to speak during Memorial Day services at the city's North Christian Veterans Memorial just off U.S. 41 near Crofton City Hall.

White struggled as he thought about what he'd say.

Researching online, he found one article that talked about the service members who made it back home but not wholly. Some were wounded. They'd lost limbs or were struggling with other disabilities. Some suffered from issues like post-traumatic stress disorder.

"I think there's still an opportunity to help those who made it home," said White, who financially supports groups like Wounded Warriors and Disabled American Veterans and encourages others to do the same.

He believes that, if asked, they would do it over again.

"It wasn't their choice to lose a limb," the Army veteran observed. "But they did, and they did it for love of this country."

In 2004, a year after he retired, White came back to Christian County and settled in Hopkinsville to be close to his mother. He and his wife, Diana, live on Country Club Lane, and White retired most recently from ABM Government Services in Hopkinsville, where he was director of contract administration. Son George Taylor is in Nashville.

Daughters Jacqueline Stevens and Tiffany White live in Atlanta.

White had requested Fort Knox as his final military assignment.

He wanted to be there for his mother in her declining years and, until 2011, White was able to help and spend time with the older woman, who lived during her later years in a home in Hopkinsville.

Arwilda Johnson died seven years after her son came back.

Roll-away Bed

White recalled how she once got a new job at Fort Campbell and was able to buy a house and land in Crofton. There was roofing around the porch of the home and it had only a living room, bedroom and kitchen.

A young White slept on a roll-away bed in the kitchen.

"I would work either cutting hay or pitching tobacco, whatever odd jobs I could get to bring a little money in," he observed of those days.

Through the years, he has forged many friendships.

The military encourages such camaraderie, White said, recalling the people he's been in service with who have become his friends for life.

Friends like Olen Rush or the Rev. Marlon Harris, the latter a good example of a friendship made in South Korea but still active today.

White also considered his friendships and influences closer to home, folks like CCHS teacher Eugene Rogers, who encouraged him to take a look at Murray's ROTC program when he got on campus, and Eldridge Rogers, a former CCHS athletic director, who helped smooth the transition for Attucks athletes when they became CCHS students.

"Eldridge has been a big part of my life ever since then," White noted. "In high school, in college, in the military, he's just a good guy."

He recalled his "arch rival" in sports, George Radford, an athlete at Trigg County when White, who in 2005 was inducted into the CCHS Athletic Hall of Fame, was playing for Attucks and Christian County.

"Every time we played against Trigg County, I had to play against this hulking person named George Radford," lamented White.

Both went to MSU on scholarships and played football for the university, and when White was introduced to his new roommate on campus, it turned out to be none other than Radford.

His pleas for someone else went unheeded, and back home years later, it was his best friend George Radford who involved White in a nonprofit whose primary focus is youth, senior citizens and needy families in Cadiz and Trigg County; White is the group's historian.

"We had a lot more in common than we had differences," White said he had learned of Radford after they became roommates so many years ago. "We became the best of friends in 1967."

Reach Tonya S. Grace at 270-887-3240 or

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