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February 16, 1970,
The only American known to have fought as a mercenary on the losing side in me Nigerian civil war was a 37‐year‐old black former paratrooper known by the Biafrans as Johnny Oche, or White Johnny.
The American is Juan Cor rea, a short and wiry, veteran of the Korean War. He re turned here recently after hav ing been wounded twice in the 30‐month Nigerian war, which ended Jan. 12. Mr. Correa said that he had trained Biafran soldiers to dismantle unex ploded bombs—a skill he had learned at Fort Campbell, Ky., when training as a paratrooper lin the United States Army.
He said that although he never joined any branch of the Biafran armed forces, he went on missions “from one end of Biafra to the other.” His ac tivities took him, he said, from Enugu, the Biafran capitol, to Port Harcourt and Calabar in the south and to Ogoja, Asaba and Onitsha in the north. They finally took him to Uli, from which he escaped the night Biafra surrendered.
‘Wait for the Bombs’
“We spread the men out in townships that had big markets and churches,” he said. “Those were the places the Nigerians bombed most often. They had nothing to do but wait for the bombs to come in.”
Mr. Correa said that when he was not training men, he was dismantling bombs. He lost a finger in a bomb explosion and was wounded twice in strafings—in the right arm and in the left shoulder. He said that the Nigerian weapons were extremely crude.
“They were being sold stuff that dated back to 1940, and many of those bombs would never have gone off,” he said. “At Uli they would drop a 1,000‐pound bomb, rigged with a small rocket detonator. That was just 800 pounds of dyna mite they gave us. The bombs just wouldn’t go off.”
He said that when he was at Enugu, the Nigerians often dropped fire extinguishers filled with dynamite. Once, he said, they dropped a small white refrigerator filled with dynamite. “The pins were set wrong, so none of them blew up,” he said.
15 Were Killed
As starvation threatened the Biafrans the job of keeping the airstrips open to relief planes became a crucial one, Mr. Cor rea said. In July of 1969, Mr. Correa said, 15 Biafrans were killed and 25 wounded by bombs dropped on Uli airstrip.
“His Excellency, General Oiukwu called me to his quarters and asked if I would go to Uli.” Mr. Correa said. “I went and stayed there training men to dismantle the bombs and patching up holes in the strip.”
“They’d bomn about seven, and by nine we’d have all the holes fixed,” he said. “We’d work surrounded by Biafran soldiers with machine guns ready. It was the only way we could get the men to work —by assuring them protection from enemy aircraft.”
Mr. Correa, who was born in Puerto Rico, but come here when he was nine years old, worked at St. Michael’s Roman Catholic Church on 99th Street as a maintenance engineer in 1967. At that time he said he went to Biafra at the behest of a Biafran diplomat originally “to run the Progress Hotel.”
The war was still three months away. He said that he had talked with Lieut. Col. Odumegwu Ojukwu, who was then military governor of the Eastern Region, about what he could do—he was deliberate ly vague about the conversa tion—and that they had agreed that he could be useful.
He flew back to the United States to say good‐by to his wife and four children. On his way back to Biafra he ran into trouble in Cameroon.
“One of the parcels I was carrying fell out of the plane and busted open,” he said. “When a parachute rolled out, I knew I was in trouble. I in sisted that the equipment was for skydiving and snorkling, but even the rain rubbers were confiscated as war material.”
He said that he was released because he had an American passport but that the Nigerians traveling with him were de tained.
The part he played in the war is “even a mystery to some Biafrans,” he said. “I am not a pilot, but many Biafrans think I am,” he added.
The Biafrans, he said, refer red to him as Johnnie Oche or “White Johnny” because he possessed skills they had seen before only in white men.
He said his family had come to Biafra to visit him but had to leave because his youngest child had contracted malaria. Near the war’s end, Mrs. Cor rea wrote asking him to cone home, saying there was illness in the family.
He returned to the United States hut only for two days.
Mr. Correa said that when he flew into Uli from Lisbon there was no one at the air port. Two days later, he said, he left Biafra on a plane with most of the army and air force commanders on board under a heavy barrage of gunfire.
Mr. Correa is now unem ployed and has little hope of collecting what the Biafrans owed him. He is looking for a job outside the United States because he feels “a black man is never paid what he is worth here.”
“If I thought Nigeria would spare my life, I’d go there now,” he said.