The man behind the White Field House
Updated: Apr 2
Written By: Staff Writer Wicked Local
Follow the link below to the Belmont Citizen-Herald article.
When they walk through the doorway at the White Field House on Concord Ave, athletes and coaches face a plaque on the wall. The plaque is a dedication to the memory of James Paul White, killed on December 21, 1944, while serving in Co. G, in the 26th Infantry 1st Division at the Battle of Dom Butgenbach Belgium.
I must have walked past this plaque dozens of times during the early 1980’s as a student and never took note of it. It was not until I returned years later as an assistant football coach and I and fellow coach Dick Quigley were discussing the plaque. Coach Quigley has an extensive coaching resume throughout eastern Mass but he said he always felt he belonged in Belmont because his father was killed in action in the same battle that took the life of James Paul White. I became curious about James Paul White and who he was and what he had done on the athletic fields to have a field house named after him.
On May 30, 1948, the Field House was dedicated to the memory of James Paul White. From all accounts, Paul was a gifted athlete and an outstanding student. He was a co-captain of the hockey team, played soccer, and was a standout pitcher on the baseball team that won the league championship in 1943. Paul was also the recipient of the coveted Ivan Gorman Trophy his senior year. A resolution drafted by the Board of Selectman described James Paul White as “a boy whose ideals exemplified the spirit of Belmont youth.”
After graduating in 1943, Paul immediately joined the Army and was assigned to the Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP) at the University of Florida. A high score on the AGCT and previous academic achievements landed selected recruits, or “Whiz Kids” as fellow soldiers called them, into ASTP programs. Unfortunately, for Paul White, the program was discontinued by the War Department and students were sent into line duty.
Paul arrived in France in November 1944, as a replacement and was assigned to Co. G, 26th Infantry 1st Division. Less than a month later, on December 16, 1944, the Germans would launch a surprise offensive in the Ardennes which notoriously became known as the Battle of the Bulge. The offensive was designed to split the allied armies in two with the goal of seizing the port of Antwerp. The ensuing German advance had created a bulge in the allied lines.
On December 17, 1944, Co. G of the 26th Infantry was told to “dig in” in the town of Dom Butgenbach Belgium. The German advance just north of Dom Butgenbach had been checked and the German Army was now concentrating on capturing a vital crossroads at Dom Butgenbach. Having heard rumors of US soldiers retreating and surrendering, Lt Col. Derrill M. Daniel of the 26th adopted the slogan, “We fight and die here” and had it passed on to every man in the outfit.
By all accounts the fighting in Dom Butgenbach on December 19, 20 and 21st were amongst the most severe in the European Theater. After action reports state that on December 20, 1944, Platoon G was practically annihilated by German tank fire, the same day that fellow 26th member Cpl. Henry “Red” Warner would distinguish himself in combat and receive, posthumously, the Congressional Medal of Honor.
On December 21, 1944, at the age of 19 James Paul White’s life came to end. The 21st was the high water mark of the battle for the Northern Shoulder (Dom Butgenbach). Roughly three days of fighting cost the Germans 782 dead and a total of 1,200 casualties and the Americans suffered 500 men killed wounded or captured. The Battle of the Bulge lasted until January 15, 1945, with total US Casualties (killed, missing or wounded) reaching 80,987.
The first telegram the White’s received was that their son was missing in action. A week later they would receive a second telegram reporting that their son had been killed in action in Belgium on December 21, 1944.
On May 30, 1948, over 1,000 persons attended the dedication of the White Field House. U.S. Sen. Leverett Saltonstall was the principal speaker. Sen. Saltonstall, whose son was killed on Guam serving with the Marines, eulogized White as a “scholar athlete, gentleman and soldier who gave his life in the Battle of the Bulge that individual freedom and opportunity should continue; and that people might gather peacefully and without fear as we are doing here today.”
While searching for information on Paul White it became clear to me that any number of buildings, streets and town squares could have been dedicated to any one of the Belmont residents killed in World War II, 83 to be exact. To his Belmont High classmates and to the citizens of Belmont, James Paul White was something special. In 1947, a funeral at St. Joseph’s Church was held for James Paul White as he became the first Belmont Hero to be repatriated from an overseas cemetery.
December 21, 2011, will mark the 67th year of the passing of James Paul White. Paul White was only 19 years young when his life ended on a cold battlefield in Belgium 67 years ago this December 21. As the Christmas season approaches, I hope we will all take the time to remember those who have given the ultimate sacrifice for our country and the young men and women who are in the service of country today.
James MacIsaac is the Belmont Police Chief. Sources for this article were: Belmont Citizen May 21, 1948, January, 1945, May 1948. Belmont Herald May 1948, Ambrose, Stephen., Citizen Soldier, 1997, Baily, Charles., Boykin, Joyce., Karamales, Lloyd., Young, Victoria., Anti-Armor Defense Data Study (A2D2) Volume III-US Anti Tank Defense at, Dom Butgenbach, Belgium (December, 1944) September 10, 1990