World Travels Of Wayne White
by James Brantley,
U.S. Army Garrison-Kwajalein Atoll
June 16, 2022
“I was killed in the Amazon jungle years
ago and have the newspaper at home framed to prove it,” said Wayne
White, manager for Wolf Creek Federal Services on U.S. Army
Thus begins the story of White,
who arrived here in December 2021, and who oversees the boat yard
and boats – minus the USAV Worthy, the ferries, the divers, as well
as the Surfways here and on Roi. He departs next month, heading back
home to Rockport, Texas.
Growing up in Des Moines, Iowa, White got
started on his life of adventure early.
“There was a little creek by my house that
(to me) was the Amazon jungle,” he said. “I’d go into an abandoned
house and find that there was a hidden basement. Walking down those
stairs as a little kid was the same (as) later, when I was in Egypt
going into Tutankhamen’s tomb.”
White enlisted in the U.S.
Marine Corps in 1974 and spent three years at Camp Pendleton,
California as a radio operator. It was there that he met his wife,
Melissa, a teacher.
Having traveled and lived all
around the world, this is White’s second tour on Kwajalein.
“Before coming to Kwaj, I was at home working on my book after my
last stint at the South Pole,” said White. He is the author of
“Cold: Three Winters at the South Pole.”
Wayne White, Station Manager at the South Pole,
outside on December 14, 2018 during one of his daily walks
that occurred every day, no matter what the weather was like
during the three winters and two summers there ...
accumulating more than 4,300 walking miles. (Photo courtesy
of Wayne White)
When asked what inspired him to travel to
the ends of the earth, he said, “I like hardship. I love physical
hardship. I’m also a really big fan and student of the explorers,
particularly Victorian and turn-of-the century explorers in regard
to the Poles.”
White got his chance to follow the explorers
in 2016 when he was selected to be the winter site manager at the
“I did my
first year and that was great,” said White. Selected for the next
year, it was during this time that his boss notified him that his
replacement had changed his mind about going and was asked if he
would do back-to-back winters. He accepted the challenge.
winter at the South Pole lasts from mid-February until the beginning
of November. After mid-February, no aircraft depart or arrive at the
South Pole until the end of October or beginning of November.
“You are essentially locked in,” said White who was in charge of
42- and 46-person crews that kept the station running over the last
Speaking of the crews, White says the best
part about the job on the ice was getting to know the people.
“One of my favorite things to do was to get to know them and
help them. I did my best to help these folks get through what they
were going through,” he said. “My days were pretty structured and I
would get out around the station to see how everything was going and
talking to people.”
White’s management style kept a distance
between himself and his crew but they knew he would do anything for
them. “My moustache became a focal point for them. It started
appearing on flyers that said: House of Wayne, King of Ice South,
Lord of Night Long,” he said. “Then people started trying to grow
moustaches, which was kind of funny. There was a big banner with a
moustache on it and a carving of a moustache in the galley carpet. I
wanted them to have fun. I loved them and I hope they knew that.”
White also shared his love of the explorers who came before him
with his crews.
“I would give presentations and had a
Saturday movie night where I’d show these old movies and talk about
them with my crew. I liked educating them to those who have gone
As the leader of the South Pole for three
winters, White defined his leadership style as a combination of his
life in the Marine Corps combined with his knowledge of the polar
explorers who came before him and the contractor bosses he has
served under around the world.
“They were so good to me,”
said White, commenting on his former bosses. “They tolerated me and
taught me how to run projects. I never forgot all their lessons on
dealing with people.”
The art of dealing with people has
helped him in far off locations such as the jungles of the Amazon,
Papua New Guinea and South Africa.
Keeping true to his quest
for hardship, White travelled to Colombia and the jungles of the
Amazon in 1985.
He flew to Leticia, Colombia because he had
always wanted a blow gun and poison darts.
White had arrived
in Leticia on an Avianca flight that had gone on strike once he
landed, so he headed out in search of his treasure.
found was a town that was a very dangerous place to be due to the
drugs. He got his gun and darts and met some interesting people
along the way.
“Upriver, the people I met wanted to know a
lot about me,” said White. “In the end I was able to convince them I
was just a dumb guy out walking, looking for a blow gun and poison
darts enough so they believed me. Because I was. Here I was, this
young guy from the U.S., looking for stuff in the jungle. It could
have gone bad. They gave me a ride back down river in their speed
Arriving back in Leticia, he went to the Avianca
office and told the lady he wanted to leave in the morning. “My
Spanish is horrible and the lady was saying ‘No manana’ and some
other stuff. I couldn’t understand her and she couldn’t understand
me. I guessed that they were not off strike yet so I hiked over the
border into the frontier of Brazil and was there for a few days.”
He hiked back into Leticia to check on his flight and was met by
a guy who had seen him in the hotel in town earlier. “He came
running up to me yelling ‘Señor Blanco, the American Embassy is
looking for you.’” White said that he had noticed the music in the
town had changed from raucous upon his arrival to a more somber mood
now. White learned what the woman had been trying to tell him days
before, that there wasn’t an Avianca flight, but that there is a
flight on a DC6 the next day. That flight, with 70+ passengers, took
off and crashed 10 miles away in the jungle, killing everyone
“I was on the manifest,” said White. “My wife was
notified every time they’d identify bodies that it wasn’t me.” White
called the embassy. He said the staff were really excited he was not
“Had I understood Spanish, or had understood what the
lady was trying to tell me, that’s all it would have taken. I’d have
gotten on the plane and I’d be dead.
“I’ve never learned
White’s first of six trips to the wilds of
Papua New Guinea had him hiking solo along the Kokoda Trail in the
eastern portion of the country in 1981.
Wayne White crosses a stream
with trackers on his walk across Papua New Guinea in 1981.
He traveled to Papua New Guinea six times early on in his
exploring days. (Photo courtesy of Wayne White)
“After a couple of trips, I worked my way
over to the Indonesian side which was much wilder,” said White. He
said that he might as well have been in 1850 going through the
jungles that people hadn’t penetrated, and was dealing with
crocodiles, snakes and leeches, as well as people who not long ago
ate people. His last trip was in 1992 where he walked from the
interior to the coast between dugout canoes and boats.
interest in PNG was sparked by Michael Rockefeller’s disappearance
in 1963 in what was then called Netherlands New Guinea.
“They weren’t sure if he was eaten by crocodiles or the people in
the Asmat area,” White said. “I loved the tribal art from those
areas and through my research, I knew I could get there and see
things that probably no one else had ever seen. That was the big
Following his final trip to PNG, White
headed out to South Africa in 1993 to walk in the footsteps of the
Zulu warriors. “I was always interested in the Zulu culture and the
Zulu war in the Natal Province of South Africa,” White said.
He walked the battlefield route, a 120-mile journey, and was
allowed to camp on the battlefield where more than 1,000 British
were killed and twice that many Zulus perished.
into superstition, but that place has a feel to it unlike any place
I’d been, especially in the middle of the night in that tent.”
Traveling With Melissa
While White has enjoyed his solo
excursions, he and his wife have lived around the world in exotic
locales such as Diego Garcia; Midway Atoll; Shemya, Alaska; Wake
Island; Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.
“When he has been home, he
has visited my classroom and the kids love him,” said his wife,
Melissa, a fourth-grade teacher in Texas. “He brings crazy things
like huge snake skins and animal skulls, and the kids think he is
great. He is a natural speaker and has no problem putting together
presentations for people of any age.”
She explained that she
did not go with him to the South Pole due to her teaching. “I would
have loved to have gone,” she said. “Going to Antarctica was a dream
of his and when he had the opportunity, I wanted him to go. When you
love someone, you want the best for them and their dreams kind of
become your dreams, too.”
With his Kwajalein tour coming to
an end, White is showing no signs of slowing down.
heading back home to Texas to prepare for my upcoming book,” White
said. After that, who knows?
“I’d like to go back to New
Guinea after all these years to see what it looks like now,” White
said. “It’s a commitment to going somewhere; you pay a price if you
really love something.”
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