Darwin Whiteside remembers his early years during the Great Depression. His grandfather lost his farm in Grapevine, Texas as a result. This forced his father to relocate and purchase thirty-seven acres where Darwin would call home. He graduated from Grapevine High School in 1940 and went to work for Oklahoma Contracting Company laying pipeline.
Darwin was privileged to be on the pipeline crew in Arkansas that laid a portion of the first 24-inch diameter pipeline that runs from East Texas to Pennsylvania. This diameter pipe had not been used before and his crew had to retrofit a ditching machine so it would dig a ditch wide and deep enough for the pipe.
Of course, World War II was raging at this time and Darwin was drafted in October 1942. He was sent to the Signal Corps where they were to make a driver out of him. His dad had made a living driving trucks and Darwin had been driving since he was thirteen. So, this duty fit him well.
Darwin had had a year of college and when he was given an aptitude test, it revealed that he would be adept in the field of electronics. So, it was off to Signal Corps radio school at the Oregon Institute of Technology in Portland, Oregon. Here he would learn to operate, service and repair military radios.
The top 25% of his class would be sent to Radar School in Camp Murphy, Florida. Darwin says that he took the longest train ride that the military had to offer – From Portland, Oregon to West Palm Beach, Florida. The train ride took a full week.
Darwin was trained on airborne radar, which means it is used for bombing, night fighter intercept, etc. After completion of the class, his Master Sergeant was impressed with his understanding of the equipment and asked him to stay as an instructor. Darwin didn’t like Florida and almost turned the offer down. But, he eventually agreed and taught radar there for approximately one year.
Shortly afterwards, a new detachment group was formed. It was called the “New Equipment Introductory Detachment.” Instructors from the technical schools were selected to man this group. Their duty would be to go to the factories, pick up the new radar equipment with handbooks and familiarize themselves with it. Then, they would deliver the radar to the branch of service that would use it and train the personnel there.
It was great temporary duty wherever they went. They all liked the idea of no KP (Kitchen Patrol), no guard duty, no charge of quarters, etc. They were assigned as “rations and quarters” personnel. Darwin was an E 5, Buck Sergeant at the time. But some of his crew were Corporals and they had a tough time exercising authority over the people on the particular bases where they were classroom instructors. Military protocol is to always honor those ranked higher than yourself. But these were trained instructors and they worked through this.
A general rule was that when you went to a new base, you were restricted to the base for 10 days. This hampered the operation of their unit and when the General of the Signal Corps got word about his men being restricted, he was determined to take care of his people. He issued this unit Class A passes, which stated that the bearer had the authority to be absent from any port in the United States at any time that his absence would not interfere with his duties. Darwin says, “We could come and go as we pleased!” They knew they had the proverbial “bird nest on the ground.”
After D-Day, the focus shifted to the Pacific and the Empire of Japan. Darwin says, “The Japanese were killing us with their ‘knee mortars.’ This was a small baseplate with a tube. A three-man crew of Japanese soldiers, all carrying mortar rounds would set up, fire three rounds, grab it and move. By the time that we knew they were shooting at us, they had moved on.”
Darwin’s unit commander picked him as one of a team of five with instructions to go through the inventory and put together a radar that would pick up mortar rounds. Incoming artillery rounds were much easier to locate. He says the artillery guys dealt with “parabolas.” (Google – “A symmetrical open plane curve formed by the intersection of a cone with a with a plane parallel to its side. The path of a projectile under the influence of gravity ideally follows a curve of this shape.” – Now you know) It means if the artillery guys get two points of reference on their equipment, they can determine exactly where that round came from. The originator of that round is then history.
But the Japanese were using their knee mortars with great success as they fired and quickly moved. Darwin’s team’s plan was to pan the area with split beam radar. They would know the angle between the beams. Then as they picked up the mortar round on the first beam, they could give artillery the two points and the goal was to get an artillery shell headed back before the first mortar landed.
This unit was mobile and mounted on a jeep. Darwin said, “One thing we found during testing is that if those two points were on the same asthmas, it will be either directly in front of you, behind you or in your lap. You needed to make a 90° turn and get your butt outa there!”
The military’s plan was to invade Japan with a massive force and put an end to the war. Darwin’s radar team had this device effective and ready. But as they were fine tuning the prototype the bombs were dropped on Japan and the war was over.
So, Darwin never left the states during his military service, but he certainly contributed in a significant manner to the freedoms won.
After the war, he applied for and received a “Dependency Discharge.” His father had passed away and he was needed to help his brother and to take over his dad’s propane business. Darwin says that he would starve to death during the summer in the propane business. “No one needs propane in the summer!” So, he worked as a plumber’s helper during the summer and would work eighteen-hour days selling and providing propane in the winter.
But Darwin’s heart desire was to return to the field of electronics. His cousin talked him into joining the Naval Reserve in Dallas and teach radar on the weekends. He said, “This was one of the biggest mistakes I ever made. The only reason for the Naval Reserve was to keep SMU football players out of the draft.” Darwin took his military service very seriously and he expected everyone that wore a uniform to do the same. But he said, “Those kids didn’t care about anything military. It was totally futile.” He stayed nine months then requested a discharge to inactive duty.
He then went to work for Varo Electronics Company. These days were very busy and exciting for the electronics industry. Texas Instruments had just developed the transistor and there was something new happening every day. He was hired as a technician and shortly worked his way up to Project Engineer.
Next in his professional career Darwin joined a friend’s company, which he had invested in. They wrote military handbooks and sub-contracted to companies that had government contracts, providing the manuals they required, and guaranteeing that the government would accept them.
He expected to be hired as a tech writer, but his friend, the owner, said, “I have plenty of good tech writers. You are the Sales Manager.” Darwin replied, “Really!? I’ve never sold anything in my life!” “You have an airplane,” the boss said, “get in it and go sell something.” Darwin owned a Cessna at the time and he began putting it to good use.
Once, while in Tulsa, following up on leads, he stopped at a business and the manager told him that their company didn’t need his product, but told him of a company just up the street that he should visit. Darwin started to ignore such a cold lead, but dropped in and when this manager came out he said, “Where the hell have you been. You’re six weeks behind already!” This account would generate over half a million dollars.
But Darwin wanted to be his own boss and become an electronics manufacturing rep. “I had found out that I really was a pretty good salesman!” His friends that were already established reps told him it would take him two years to get that business started. He thought, “No, it won’t take me two years. I’ll work harder than that. But soon I realized…It takes two years to get that business started!”
He worked hard and the business began to be profitable. Then he landed a contract with Collins Radio and he says, “I knew I would make it then.” Darwin’s professional success would continue and he acquired patents in the electronics field as well as the electromechanical field. This technology is still used today.
Darwin’s story would not be complete if I didn’t mention his accomplishments in the communities where he has lived. In 2016, he retired from the North Texas Municipal Water Board, where he had served for twenty-eight years. He has been a member of the Honor Guard and faithfully served on the city councils of Garland, Texas and Royse City, Texas.
But one of Darwin’s most treasured accomplishments is that, at age 88, he won first place in the 55 and over truck pull contest in Royse City. He calls this, “The old geezer’s category.” He had placed second the previous year, but, as you can imagine, was not satisfied with anything less than first place. Defeating two younger contestants, he replied, “It was a killer.” But the “rest of the story” is that Darwin had suffered two heart attacks in 1986, just two years before his raw strength performance.
Darwin Whiteside’s life is an example and an inspiration for all of us. Because of devotion and dedication to do things correctly and because of his hard work, he has enjoyed the freedom of success. He is a member of the Greatest Generation that has lived the hard times and experienced the good times that they fought and struggled to gain.