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World War II veteran from Utah turns 100, has advice for mayor

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) John Whitby blows out the candles on his birthday cake. Veteran John Whitby celebrated his 100th birthday, January 16th, with a party in his honor January 18, 2014 at the William E. Christoffersen Salt Lake Veterans Home, with other veterans, family, friends and loved ones in attendance.

By Kristen moulton

The Salt Lake Tribune

First published Jan 18 2014 05:41PM
Updated Jan 19, 2014 10:18AM

John E. Whitby’s campaign slogan when he ran for president of the veterans home’s resident association was a pithy one: "99 years of experience."

The World War II veteran known for his jokes, though, was celebrated Saturday for another qualification: he joined the ranks of Utah’s centenarians.

Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams, who presented Whitby with a framed proclamation, asked Whitby if he had any advice.

"He said to ‘Take lots of pills and stay active,’" McAdams said.

Whitby, surrounded by his wife of 61 years, Arva Whitby, children, grandchildren and fellow residents, was serenaded by Highland Drive, a barbershop quartet, and blew out five of the 10 candles — each representing a decade of life. His daughter-in-law, Virginia Whitby, helped him with the rest.

Whitby lives at the William E. Christoffersen Salt Lake Veterans Home, where he serves as the residents’ president and still goes on outings such as horseback riding or Utes Gymnastic meets.

"He’s always has a joke in his pocket," said his son, John Whitby.

His daughter, Marianne Whitby, told those gathered that her father taught her and her four brothers to work hard, have beautiful gardens and to be punctual.

"All clocks in our house are on Whitby time — five minutes early," she said.

Whitby was born Jan. 16, 1914, in Alpine, where his grandfather, an English immigrant, had settled. Before he was three months old, though, the family moved to Carey, Idaho, where he was raised on a farm.

Several years before war broke out, Whitby had graduated from what was then Utah State Agricultural College — Utah State University — and had taught high school business, typing, shorthand.

He enlisted in the Navy in June 1942 and was trained as a hospital corpsman and sent to the Pacific. He was in on two major invasions, Cape Gloucester and Peleliu, according to a Navy fact sheet. Whitby became a Chief Pharmacist’s Mate before leaving the Navy in November 1945.

After the war, Whitby didn’t want to return to teaching — "I’d had enough of that!" he said Saturday.

Instead, he went to work for the Veterans Administration in the business office, and worked there and at the VA hospital until retiring in 1980.

For many years, though, his daughter said, he continued to do accounting from home, continuing to work until he was 93 years old.

Whitby said he used to get together regularly with other World War II veterans, but "One dropped out and another dropped out and there was one left and that was me."

A fellow resident, Dave Stevens, told of Whitby’s disappointment on an outing to a University of Utah Gymnastics meet.

Whitby was on the tumbling team at Utah State and wanted to see men gymnasts.

"He was really upset," Stevens, a Gulf War veteran, said.

"He said, "There’s never any men here!"

Twitter: @KristenMoulton

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