Not everyone has the guts to strap a parachute onto their backs and jump out into nothing. But bravado wasn’t the reason Calvin Whatley, 93, did it. The real reason was an aversion for learning Japanese code during World War II.
Whatley, an Eddy resident, grew up in the Dallas and graduated from Woodrow Wilson High School. He graduated on a Saturday, and on Monday his mom dropped him off at the induction center. “It happened so quick, I didn’t know what was going to happen,” Whatley said. He was just 18 in February 1943.
He had a choice: leave that night or take a seven-day furlough. Of course, he chose the furlough.
After his basic training, he went to St. Petersburg, Fla., where he learned German code. But after months of preparation, the war’s ending in Europe meant retraining to learn Japanese code. That’s when he decided to volunteer for airborne service.
By this time a corporal, Whatley landed in Georgia for training as a parachutist. It was intense, and many men at the decisive moment couldn’t go through with it, Whatley said.
The men would be on top of a 34-foot tower, “which doesn’t sound very high until you get on top …” he said.
The tower had four “arms” with a bunch of dangling straps. One arm was left empty, “so when that arm released, you knew you were next,” he said. The men were hoisted up and left dangling until released. “I was sort of pleased I was getting it over with,” he added. “I think I was more concerned about the jump later — the real thing, rather than those we took when we were training.”
With five jumps under his wings, Whatley was as ready as he could be. It would be another matter altogether jumping off the plane with pounds of gear on his back. Yet, they departed from California in 1944, headed to the Philippines. The ship on which they traveled took more than 30 days and was so crowded that many had to eat standing up against a wall.
Based in Manilla as part of the 511 Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 11th Airborne Division, Company A, Whatley’s official title was radio operator (High Speed Manual). He was a sharpshooter on the carbine.
Whatley had his big jump on June 23, 1945, flying over northern Luzon. He was loaded down with ammunition, water, his weapon and his food rations. “The Japanese knew we were coming and when we were coming,” he said.
Despite this, “even before some of us landed, they were shooting from the ground,” he said. But the enemy hesitated, as it would give away their position. Fortunately, his jump went smoothly. The mission was to gather on the road and meet up with the 37th Infantry Division; they walked for miles and miles and spent time camping. They were there for several days.
When encamped, there was a dynamite ring circling the base and one person who kept watch. “It was not unusual at all for the dogs of the natives to smell cooking and come up later in the night trying to get it,” he said. The dogs would trip the wire, waking the men of the camp.
The 511th moved on to become part of the occupation force in Japan. Whatley flew to Yokohama, then rode a bus to a smaller town. From there, the men were sent home, and Whatley returned to the States and was honorably discharged as a sergeant on March 23, 1946.
He returned to Dallas for a time and picked up a relationship he had with a girl he spent summers with growing up. Living across the street from Julia Byrom, they got to know each other and became an item. She joined the Coast Guard, he the Army, at which point their relationship drifted, but they kept in touch with one another by letters.
“A fellow from Pennsylvania came close to walking off with her,” he said.
Calvin and Julia were married in the summer of 1948 and took a honeymoon courtesy of Uncle Sam to Mexico City, when they enrolled for six weeks at the University of Mexico.
After college (Whatley went to East Texas State Teacher’s College), he and his wife both entered the teaching profession. At one point, he became the principal of Temple College. As part of their adventure in teaching, the couple went to Europe, where they both taught as civilians in France and Germany for the U.S. Army; Whatley served as principal.
The Whatley's retired in 1984 and eventually moved to land that had been in the family for a long time.
As for his service, he’s glad he made it through.
“I feel like I’m a mighty lucky bastard to make it home safely,” he concluded.