Teeing off for a lost comrade
August 1, 2003
ATSUGI NAVAL AIR FACILITY, Japan — Despite an early morning downpour Wednesday, 140 golfers turned out for the Lt. Nathan “O.J.” White Memorial Golf Tournament at this base near Tokyo, held to benefit the fallen pilot’s three young children.
Organizers said they expected to raise from $10,000 to $15,000 from entry fees and donations, which will go to the Lt. Nathan White Children’s Fund at Community Bank.
“We’re trying to keep this upbeat,” said Lt. Dan Cochran, a VFA-195 “Dambusters” pilot and White’s roommate when the two embarked on the USS Kitty Hawk for Operation Iraqi Freedom. “We’re trying to celebrate his life and help his family.”
White died April 2 after his F/A-18 Hornet was shot down over Iraq by a U.S. Patriot missile in a “friendly-fire” accident. He was the only naval aviator lost in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
His death hit the close-knit VFA-195 squadron of 23 officers hard, Cochran said. “Living in Japan, since only our immediate family is here, we end up spending a lot more time together as a squadron than most squadrons in the States.”
A golf tournament seemed the best way to honor White’s memory and help his family, said Lt. j.g. Don Moore, a VFA-195 maintenance officer who golfed with White three to four times a week.
“We got to be really good friends from playing so much,” Moore said.
Moore said White’s children — Courtney, 8, Austin, 5, and 3-year-old Zachary — are with their mother, Akiko, in Florida, where the family is staying with friends. They left Atsugi on July 14.
“It was pretty hard on her being here, in my opinion, from seeing the jets everyday and seeing friends of Nate,” Moore said of Akiko. “The last time I saw her, she looked very tired.”
A small table, set up in White’s memory, displayed a photograph of the 30-year-old pilot standing on the USS Kitty Hawk, two days before he died.
“We flew a mission over Iraq together a couple days before he was shot down,” Cochran said. “I had my little digital camera with me” as White was readying his F/A-18.
The children’s fund is really a college fund, Cochran said. Most of the money raised Wednesday at Whispering Pines Golf Course came from the entry fee of $300 per team or $75 per person. Boeing also donated $1,500 and provided miscellaneous prizes, as did a handful of other businesses including Raytheon, Ping, Titleist, Callaway and General Electric. The Defense Commissary Agency donated about 80 percent of the complimentary food and beverages, Moore said, noting that golf course employees also lent a hand.
Several prizes were given away, from golf bags and apparel to a free trip for two to Guam. Most players were from Kitty Hawk squadrons “who flew with him every day,” Cochran said of White. There was one female team of spouses.
“Everyone’s having a good time,” said Airman Apprentice Alex Ramirez, 21. Ramirez was part of a four-man team from VFA-195 that won a raffle for ranks E-3 and below to have their entry fees paid by the squadron’s commanding officer.
“We’re here to help out his kids,” Ramirez said of White.
Moore said the squadron wants to make the tournament an annual event: “One of my goals is to come back in 20 years and be able to play in it.”