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'Surrounded by family': Perry WWII veteran who died without survivors honored by community, state leaders

PERRY — A quiet, private man, Herman White never divulged much about himself.

But for everyone who gathered Wednesday to bid him goodbye — whether they knew a little about him or, more likely, nothing at all — that wasn’t important.

The only thing that mattered, as Perry resident Ervin Bier put it, was “he was a veteran.”

Bier and his wife, Pam, both military veterans and members of Perry’s American Legion Post 53, were among several hundred people on hand at Grace Hill Cemetery in Perry to pay tribute to White, a World War II Navy veteran who died recently at 97 with no known survivors.

Joining community members at the special graveside service and ceremony were state legislators, dozens of Patriot Guard riders and a strong contingent of white-uniformed Navy personnel from Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City.

The result of a community effort to make sure White had a proper send-off, it all began a couple of weeks ago.

White’s wife, Evelyn, and son, Mickey, died previously, and after failing to find other survivors, Brown-Dugger Funeral Home in Perry reached out to the community.

With the funeral home covering some of the cost and providing the casket, the American Legion and Perry First Baptist Church donated more money to help pay for a service. Meanwhile, dozens of other volunteers offered their help in other roles.

The Biers didn’t know White personally. But just knowing that he was a veteran, “we wanted to figure out how to get him buried,” said Pam Bier, who served with the Army Reserves.

She added that, initially, “that’s all we thought we were doing — helping bury a veteran.” But almost overnight it turned into much more, as the word spread.

“And it’s not just the American Legion but Perry people who stepped up,” she said.

“This is fantastic,” she added of the showing Wednesday.

Ervin Bier, who did three tours in Vietnam, read Psalm 23 at the service for White.

‘Sense of responsibility’

Among others who spoke was state Sen. Chuck Hall, R-Perry.

While the late veteran may not have had any known relatives, “I submit to you today,” Hall said, “that Herman White is surrounded by family.”

“If you were like me,” he added, “you had a range of emotions — an undeniable sense of responsibility or maybe even duty” to see that White was appropriately honored.

Hall recognized members of the state House and Senate Veterans Caucus, whom he said were in attendance.

White died Aug. 11. Although he’d reserved a plot next to his wife and son, he made no arrangements for funeral and burial expenses. He donated his home and possessions to the First Baptist Church.

Had it not been for the donations, he might’ve been interred at a local potter’s field. Officials with the funeral home said they couldn’t let that happen.

One of thousands who learned via social media about the plan to honor White, Norman North High School junior Benjamin Egan volunteered his trumpet.

“I thought they might need someone to play taps. So I contacted them, and they said yes,” said Egan, who performed at the service alongside a uniformed trumpeter.

“He was a veteran with no immediate family,” Egan said of White. “It’s really great to see so many people here.”

Also part of the service, letters were read from President Donald Trump, Gov. Kevin Stitt and Navy Admiral Greg Slavonic.

In his letter, read by Master Sgt. William Thorn, the president offered his “deepest condolences to this respected member of the Greatest Generation. … Their sacrifice was critical to the defense of our freedom.”

Not a lot is known about White’s military experience.

He served in the Pacific aboard the USS Muliphen, an attack cargo ship. He served from May 1945-April 1946 and received an honorable discharge as a seaman second class.

Although he, too, was unacquainted with White, Harrell Denson had a connection to him that likely no one else on hand Wednesday shared. The Oklahoma City resident once served on the Muliphen.

“You don’t hear our ship mentioned very often,” he said, adding that he was on it in the late 1960s, many years after White.

Denson, who was at the service to represent the ship’s alumni association, said of White, “There’s a kinship that we shared. … We walked the same decks, ate in the same mess hall.”

Pam Bier said the circumstances surrounding the service touched her and her husband personally.

More than 40 years ago, the couple lost a baby, she said, and weren’t in a position to pay for services. Someone stepped forward then to help and told them instead of paying him back, to help somebody else.

“It’s taken 43 years, but now we are doing that,” she said.

Richard Hanks, of Ford-Wulf-Bruns Funeral Home in Coffeyville, Kansas, who officiated the service, praised the large turnout.

“Sadly, it was only in his death that we learned his story, and yet here we are today,” he said.

In so doing, he added, “we are pledging to be the bearers of Herman White’s story.”

Former Epic Charter Schools teachers sue for wrongful termination

OKLAHOMA CITY — Two former teachers have alleged they were wrongfully fired from Epic Charter Schools because they resisted pressure to manipulate student enrollment.

Noelle Waller and Shauna Atchley filed lawsuits against Epic on Friday in Oklahoma County District Court, claiming they were fired after they refused to withdraw students who had poor academic performance. Waller taught in Pawnee County; Atchley taught in Pryor. They are requesting a judge award damages of at least $75,000.

Epic’s Assistant Superintendent of Communications Shelly Hickman said Epic hasn’t been served with any lawsuits yet.

“However, these are disgruntled former employees hoping to profit from what they perceive to be the issue of the day,” Hickman said in a statement. “I cannot comment about personnel issues, but I can tell you that these employees are no longer employed with us, and for good reason.”

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Inhofe, Lankford, Hern all OK with redirecting to border barrier $8 million earmarked for Tulsa Air National Guard base

Oklahoma’s two U.S. senators and 1st District Congressman Kevin Hern all said Wednesday that they are fine with the Trump administration’s taking $8 million earmarked for a small-arms firing range at the Oklahoma Air National Guard base in Tulsa and using it for new and replacement barriers on the nation’s southern border.

“Not one of the vital national security projects in Oklahoma will be impacted by this decision,” Sen. Jim Inhofe, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a written statement. “Additionally, I will continue to work with the Oklahoma National Guard and Major General (Michael) Thompson to ensure that the small arms range is still completed on schedule.”

The $8 million for the shooting range is a small portion of the $3.6 billion from the Department of Defense construction budget that President Donald Trump says he’s redirecting to increase physical barriers on the southern border.

Sen. James Lankford said following a public appearance in Jenks Wednesday night that he is fine with delaying the gun range because it was not going to be built in the current fiscal year and, in fact, was under closer scrutiny because of its price tag.

Lankford said it is not unusual for appropriated funds to be “reprogrammed” during a fiscal year.

“If this is typical reprogramming, (it) doesn’t bother me,” he said. “If they’re actually pulling a project off that was agreed to in law — that everybody agreed to — I think that is a problem.”

“Border security is national security,” Hern said in a news release. “The temporary cut to the facility in Oklahoma does not threaten our national security capabilities and I will work hard with our delegation to ensure our guardsmen have all the resources that they need to do their job.”

Oklahoma Adjutant General Michael Thompson also said he is OK with the move.

“Temporarily redirecting funds from our planned small-arms range to further support security on the southern border will have no long-term impact to the readiness or operations of the Oklahoma National Guard,” he said.

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Uninsured vehicle diversion program nears 7,500 participants; no prosecutions yet

In the 10 months since the Uninsured Vehicle Enforcement Diversion program hit the road, its camera-equipped cars (and one trailer) have crossed Oklahoma scanning license plates and checking for insurance verification.

UVED Prosecutor Amanda Arnall Couch said the program has scanned plates in all but the three Panhandle counties and enrolled 7,348 drivers, each paying a $174 fine and agreeing to maintain insurance for the next two years. In March, the program had enrolled nearly 1,000.

Since rolling out in metro areas in the winter, the program has expanded coverage to most of the state, Arnall Couch said. At an Oklahoma Association of Police Chiefs conference, the agency raffled off the chance to be the first smaller city to host its camera-equipped trailer.

“Dewey — the thriving metropolis of Dewey, Oklahoma — got the trailer first,” Arnall Couch said. “It spent a couple weeks in Dewey, a couple weeks in Bartlesville. It’s currently in Claremore, and then it’s going to Idabel next.”

UVED uses a “hot list” provided through data from the Oklahoma Insurance Department and Oklahoma Tax Commission. The Insurance Department provides a real-time snapshot from insurance companies of Oklahomans’ insurance policies, while the Tax Commission provides the database of license plates.

When a plate comes back not connected to an insurance policy, it’s added to that day’s hot list that cameras are searching for. Enforcement is retroactive, meaning a violation caught on one day will be enforced even if the driver gets auto insurance before being contacted by UVED.

Despite the growing number of drivers in the program, Arnall Couch said she doesn’t have a good answer to the program’s overall impact on the number of uninsured drivers. Because the state recently issued new license plates and insurance is necessary to renew tags, the exact number of uninsured drivers is hard to pinpoint and may be artificially low because of the plates, she said.

UVED has also discovered hiccups in the system. About 2,500 drivers have successfully contested their citations, and Arnall Couch said “almost all” of those have been vehicles whose registration hasn’t been changed to a new owner.

With the July 1 change that license plates don’t stay with vehicles that are sold, Arnall Couch said that number of false positives continues to drop.

Although the law’s change has improved accuracy, the system has discovered new faults. Problems remain in verifying commercial insurance coverage, but Arnall Couch said cooperation with insurers will eventually curtail those issues.

There have also been issues with VIN typos, vehicles registered to someone other than the insurance policyholder, and instances of Oklahoma-registered vehicles having out-of-state insurance.

Because the agency is still working to perfect the system’s accuracy, Arnall Couch said she hasn’t referred anyone for prosecution yet.

“I am doing my darnedest not to prosecute any Oklahomans,” Arnall Couch said. “This is still, in my opinion, a brand new program. There are enough discrepancies apparent in this system that it doesn’t seem fair to me.”

But those referrals to district attorneys could come soon. Those enrolled in the program have paid a fine and promised to get insurance, Arnall Couch said. That doesn’t always mean they have kept insurance up after enrolling, and she said they will likely be the first to see a judge.

“Now, people are probably going to start turning up,” Arnall Couch said. “I have a list of a couple, less than 10, that said, ‘Yes, I got insurance,’ enrolled in the program and then got caught again. Those people may find themselves rolling into prosecution over the next couple of months.

“But again, until I can be sure that the reason they’re popping up on the list isn’t one of these other issues, it just doesn’t seem right to me to send them out to a DA for prosecution.”

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Tulsa Police Sgt. Jennifer Murphy talks about the Tulsa Police new reading program and school supply handout at the Darlington Apartments.

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