Home for Christmas. Three simple words that hold both memory and promise for most of us.

Jim White, War Hero, Incarcerated for 40 Years

James "Sneaky" White Home for ChistmasJames “Sneaky” White is a decorated Vietnam veteran. He dreams of a Christmas at home with his wife. Fellow soldiers named James “Sneaky” because of his daring as a helicopter pilot, providing support and cover for troops.

California has incarcerated White since the late ’70s for a crime related to the PTSD he developed in Vietnam.  That’s almost forty years. When a judge sentenced James, psychologists had yet to recognize and name PTSD. The state tried him in an era where Vietnam veterans were not welcomed home. White’s defense didn’t bring up his stellar performance and valor.  The Marine Corps awarded him, as one example, the Distinguished Flying Cross for courage under fire. He was the first enlisted man to receive the medal since World War II.  But that selfless bravery wasn’t considered in his sentencing. That’s how it was then.

Good Works for Veterans in Prison

I met James at Tehachapi State Prison where I gave a talk for Vietnam veterans.  He wanted to start an ongoing veterans group there. He did form a group, and he continued to organize vet groups wherever he was transferred in the system. These groups helped reduce prison violence and de-escalate racial tension. He established an education program within the prison so inmates could earn degrees. Also, he’s raised over $350,000 for veterans causes and for the community of Ironwood, including a program for troubled youth.

In addition, James has mentored many, many inmates, leading by example. He’s saved the life of a prison guard and three prisoners. He helped guards handle dangerous situations, and started Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous groups. James White builds bridging relationships between guards and inmates. His clemency petition includes commendations from prison officials for exemplary behavior and contributions to fellow inmates.

It’s Time for a Pardon

I’ve known Jim White over 36 years. I’ve written about his story several times here because I honor his integrity, his generosity, and his spirit. Many of us think he’s more than repaid any debt to society the court imposed. Because of this, I count myself among his veteran friends who have tirelessly petitioned the Governor of California for White’s release.  The appeals go in and no word comes out.  There’s no established time frame for a pardon application.  Men who flew with him and those who served with him have sent letters following up on the petition since 2004. One of his colleagues sent letters again several weeks ago. As one of the pilots said, “We don’t give up.  We’re wired to serve.” I think that well describes James “Sneaky” White, too.

Home for Christmas 

Jim and his wife Nancy married in 1981. She is critically ill. Time is short.  Because of this, and James’ rehabilitation and contributions in prison, the best Christmas present the Governor could give would be a pardon for James, so he can go home for Christmas with his wife. That would also be a gift to a lot of Vietnam veterans out here, me included.

In this season of gratitude and reflection, of celebration and joy, give a thought to those who put their lives on the line for us.  If you know a vet who needs help, here’s our toll-free number: 888.777.4443.

 

Shad Meshad

As a U.S. Army Medical Service Officer in Vietnam in 1970, Shad Meshad began pioneering treatment techniques for what would later become known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He is the founder of the National Veterans Foundation and founder and co-author of the VA’s Vet Center Program.

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