Marine wrestles runaway bus
By Pfc. Jared Plotts
| | September 12, 2003
MARINE FORCES PACIFIC, CAMP H. M. SMITH, Hawaii --
The door flew open and the sun illuminated the small room. Corporal Kenneth J. White, driver, motor transportation, Headquarters and Service Battalion, Marine Forces Pacific, smiled as he set his bag of goodies from the exchange on the desk to his right. The other Marines drowned in amusement as White pulled a giant gummy rat from his bag. He wore a half-folded smile as he held the rat close to him and let out a sigh of pure happiness.
Two months ago, the same comical Marine avoided what could have been a terrible wreck. The brakes went out on the full 45-passenger bus he was driving and went careening down a hill through the busy intersection.
On the morning of July 11, about 90 Marines in two buses left Camp Smith and set out for Marine Corps Training Area Bellows for a battalion run. A few miles after exiting the gate, the brakes went out on White's bus. The lives of 44 Marines' lives rested in his hands.
"We didn't slow down... Capt. McDaniel asked me if we had any brakes. I told him, 'no sir,'" said the newly promoted noncommissioned officer.
Surrounded by vehicles on both sides, White stayed on course and stared down the red light in front of him like a scene from an old Clint Eastwood flick.
"Everything was in slow motion. It was a little scary-well, not really. Wait, yeah, it was scary. I let out a huge sigh of relief when we finally stopped. Everyone thought we were going to get out of PT," joked Sgt. Darcy A. Redding, Pacific Command NCO, one of the 44 passengers that fateful day.
Once he reached the intersection at the bottom of Halawa Heights Rd., a car came out of nowhere, just like in some realistic, cruel video game. White kept his calm and jerked the wheel to the right, then what seemed like a nanosecond later, back to the left.
"I think we were up on two wheels for a second - it certainly felt like it. The two Marines sitting behind me were screaming bloody murder. After we went through the intersection, the road opened up. There was a truck beside me and I almost clipped it," said White.
The bus finally came to a stop and Capt. Michael P. McDaniel, S-3 officer, HQSVCBN, instructed White to make sure no one got off the bus while he checked outside the bus.
White sat with his hands off the steering wheel, his heart still racing making weak sporadic attempts to slow down. But his mind was as calm as could be.
"I never really panicked. I was enjoying myself the whole time. I just couldn't show it," said White.
Despite the nerve-racking situation, and the rattled state of mind of some Marines, the battalion squeezed into the other bus and pressed on to Bellows.
White was awarded the Navy Achievement Medal for his heroic actions, or reactions and quick thinking. The Merrimac, Mass., native plans on returning home after he wraps up his Marine Corps career in two weeks.
White's quirky behavior and unpredictability is well known by his fellow Marines. During the brake loss debacle, White's rarely seen cool, calm demeanor replaced his normal persona.
"He is a character. I have worked with White for three years. He is the motor pool," said Sgt. Dewayne Johnson, MARFORPAC motor transportation vehicle operator and dispatch chief.
"I think I am pretty quiet. I just keep it cool and go with the flow," said White.
His low-key demeanor and relaxed atmosphere he always seems to project played a huge part in preserving the safety of 44 Marines that day.