Street antics of Korean War hero win him admirers
by Joe Fitzgerald
Gerri White didn't know the names of the men who kept calling her home,
asking for her husband, hours after this paper hit the streets a week
ago. All she knew was that they were his brothers. Ralph White, if you
missed the story, is the Korean War veteran who flashed thumbs-down to a
group of chanting protesters as they marched along Beacon Street. One,
a young man in his 20s, decided to confront him, detouring onto the
"So you think it's OK our troops are over there murdering innocent
people for oil?" he asked, getting into his face. White, who served in the
1st Marine Division and came home with a Purple Heart, replied, "No,
they're over there defending your right to get in my face without me
punching you in the (bleeping) mouth." The brash young man crushed against
him, daring him, "Try it." As White later recalled: "Here I am, 71
years old, rolling around Beacon Street and it felt great!"
"I nailed him. Then the State Police moved in, breaking it up all too
soon. When they asked if I wanted to press charges I said, 'Hell, no,
I'd just like another piece of him.'"
The story ended with Ralph trying to explain to Gerri how he'd scuffed
his suit. He left their Walpole home the following morning, just
before the calls began. "They were Marines, wanting to tell him, 'Semper
Fi,'" Gerri reports. "One, who sounded like he was Ralph's age, all
gung-ho, called from a Lexington coffee shop where a group of them had just
read the story. I said, "You guys sound as if you're ready to leave for
Kuwait.' He said, You bet we are! Tell Ralph we'll swing by to pick him
up.' I told him, 'My God, don't joke about it. He'd go with you.'"
Meanwhile, the phone kept ringing here, too, with readers asking where they
could send a check to replace Ralph's suit. "I'm sitting here with
three friends and my father-in-law, reading about this guy, and we think
he's fantastic," Larry Scafidi, proprietor of Embassy Trophy in Waltham,
said. "So we each kicked in $100 as a way of saying thanks for doing
what many of us would like to have done, too." Another $100 offer came
from Peg Jenkins, 60, a Braintree reader who suggested, "He should get
another Purple Heart! When I thought of him trying to explain to his wife
how he ripped his suit, it absolutely made my day. I think he's a
So does Tommy Leonard, the legendary barkeep of the old Eliot Lounge
who now mans the taps at the Quarterdeck in Falmouth. An old leatherneck
himself, Leonard once served with White. "I'm just so damn proud of
him," Tommy said. "I've got the story hanging on my refrigerator door. It
makes me laugh and cry at the same time. I can't hear, I've got
cataracts and my knees are shot, so I don't think they'll be taking this
cowboy anytime soon. But I'd go now if they'd have me, and so would Ralph.
What he did was beautiful. I just couldn't wait to call and tell him,
'Semper Fi.'" White, though amused by the responses, is remaining
adamantly mum, uncomfortable with the suggestion he's anybody's hero. "Oh,
you won't get anything more out of him," Gerri said, laughing. "Once a
Marine, always a Marine. My daughter called when she read the story,
remembering how whenever we heard the Marine Corps hymn, we all had to
stand. We both agreed he's tamed down a lot. "But tell your callers
something from me, OK? If they want to buy him a suit, they'll have to go with
him to pick it out because he's still terrible to shop with, I'll tell
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