Your shoulders are bowed by the responsibility you carry,
Yet compassion is all we see.
Your hands are rough and calloused from all your hard work.
Yet we don’t notice as you wipe away our tears.
Your body aches and your arms are fatigued,
Yet your lap is always open as we run to you for hugs and cuddles.
His life didn’t start with a blare of trumpets or a ticker tape parade, but when his mother Beulah held him in her arms that first time she knew he was special.
“Little man, you are going to be a blessing to many.” His Father James seriously told him.
“He is certainly a blessing to our family.” Beulah cooed as she snuggled him close.
So began the life of Garland LeRoy Henderson,
Being a boy in a family with 3 sisters can be hard, but Lee took it in stride. When he was a toddler his two older sisters loved to coddle and baby him, they smothered him with affection, dressing him up and tousling his deep auburn curls. He patiently allowed it but was grateful when his youngest sister Pauline was born. Now Anna and LaHoma had someone else to coddle and baby. Lee was growing up; he was going to become a man.
An inquisitive child, Lee loved learning about everything and anything. His Family didn’t have a lot, his Father's health wasn’t good, but they grew up learning to love each other and to love God and all his creations. When Lee was 11 years old, he and his friends were playing ball. A car came barreling around the corner, hitting Lee. He was drug for about 10 feet. A neighbor called the police then ran to help Lee. His parents arrived about the same time as the ambulance; Lee was battered and bloody but awake and talking. God obviously had plans for him. The accident left permanent damage to his right side of his head; the cartilage of his ear was crushed, beyond repair. But his family felt blessed by his miraculous survival.
Lee’s father died two years later of Valley Fever, this left the family destitute. His mother started taking in laundry to keep her family fed. Lee watched her struggle working all the time to the point of exhaustion to try and keep them afloat. So without her permission or knowledge he got a job delivering newspapers. Early every morning he’d leave the house to get the papers for his route. At the end of the week he surprised her with the money he made. They still struggled but it helped, Lee gradually took over the responsibilities of his family. He quit school and began working full time. He had just turned thirteen.
On September 1, 1939, Hitler invaded Poland, and World War II officially started. The United States was neutral. By now his two oldest sisters had married and were doing well. His mother was also doing better financially, so Lee waited seven months for his 18th birthday then he enlisted in the United States Army.
While on leave after boot camp he met Viola Mae at the local ballroom. He knew in his heart, she would one day be his. They spent his whole leave together. When he went on deployment they kept in continuous contact. Lee’s orders came in, he was to go to the USS Arizona, which was docked out of Pearl Harbor, in Honolulu, it was November 12, 1941. He had never been to Hawaii and considered this assignment more like a vacation, especially since the U.S. still hadn’t entered the war. However Lee’s orders changed a week before he was to leave for the Arizona. He was reassigned to the USS President Hayes; this was a newer ship, having been constructed in 1939, so he was excited about that too. Basically he was excited to start this new adventure. On December 7th, 1941, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. The United States was now at war. The Arizona was one of the ships sunk. Of the 1177 men aboard, 1102 died. In total 2403 US personnel and 68 civilians died, 19 US navy ships including 8 battleships were destroyed in the attack of Pearl Harbor. The United States had been a neutral country at the time of the attack, they were taken by surprise, but Japan would be on the receiving end of a bigger surprise, they had woken a sleeping giant.
Lee proposed to Viola by telegram right after the attack, he realized how short life could be and he didn’t want to waste another minute. However it wasn’t until August of 1942 that they were able to exchange vows. After a brief honeymoon he was back over seas in the thick of things. In 1943 his first daughter was born.
Back on the USS President Hayes, he was initiated to a shellback, commemorating his first crossing of the equator. Then on November 10th 1944, the Hayes was coming in to dock at Seeadler Harbor at Manus Island, Papua New Guinea. Lee was on deck and witnessed the explosion of the USS Mount Hood, fire and rescue crews from the Hayes were dispatched but the only survivors were the 18 men who had left the ship for shore leave. The Hood was obliterated but 22 smaller ships that were near the Hood were damaged and needed help. The scene was one of nightmares as they dragged bodies from the harbor; this was Lee’s first up close and personal experience with the horrors of war.
Lee rapidly moved up in rank, during this turbulent times. He was able to visit his wife only one more time while the war raged. They cherished every moment, knowing it could be their last. He wouldn’t meet the newest addition to his family until after the war was over.
Lee was a technician 3rd grade now, basically a staff sergeant. He was in the Specialty Recovery Unit. They were adapt at recovering salvageable equipment from the battlefields, even stripping and towing vehicles under the cover of darkness from ‘HOT’ battlefields. Like the Panzer IV, he and his unit recovered. They had needed 2 M1 Abrams with boom cranes to lift the 25 ton German tank up right. His unit also specialized in clearing roads and stabilizing structures. That’s what led to his next assignment.
On July 27th, 1945, two Boeing B-29 dropped flares and a total of 60,000 leaflets on the city of Aomori, Japan. It listed 11 cities that would be bombed and it urged the civilian population to leave. The Imperial Japanese government wouldn’t allow them to leave, they were under a threat of imprisonment if they read and discussed the information on the pamphlets. On July 28th, 63 bombers arrived over the city. The bombers released 83,000 new M74 incendiary devices on the central part of the city. The firestorm destroyed 88% of the city. 1767 people were killed and 18,045 homes and businesses were destroyed.
Lee and his unit arrived in Aomori, September 25, 1945. The war officially ended on September 2, but troops were sent to disarm the Imperial Japanese army. Even though Japan had surrendered after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, there were still about a million men in the Japanese Army ready to defend their homeland. It was a surreal feeling setting foot on the homeland soil of the once formidable Imperial Japanese Empire. They had many obstacles to overcome; it was more than just restoring civil order. Aaomori was a ghost town; most of the populace were in the hills. Lee found it hard to believe that this great pile of rubble was once a city. He and his unit got to work, miles of road had to be cleared, and unstable buildings needed to be knocked down and removed. This was part of Lee’s duties now. He was heartsick from the destruction he saw every where.
Once the citizens of Aomori realized the American soldiers weren’t there to harm them, they started coming down from the surrounding hills. At first tentative, the citizens let the soldiers know they were appreciative that the horrible war was over in which they had been forced to participate in. Some who spoke English, told of the hardships they endured under the Imperial Military, they had been ruthless and barbaric. Lee’s respect grew for these people as he got to know of them during this time of reconstruction.
Lee was fortunate though; the War Department decided to start bringing men home, first to leave were fathers and those who had more than 21 months under there belt, they became known as the ‘21 Month Men’. So Lee was on his way home to his family.
Lee surprised his wife when he walked in the door, she fell to her knees sobbing when she saw him, and he gathered her in his arms and felt like his life was finally beginning again.
His 3 year old daughter Viola Leigh cautiously approached,
“Daddy?” She asked, then ran to his arms when he nodded yes.
His youngest Beulah Jean was just starting to walk, carrying her bottle she curiously toddled over to where the stranger kneeled with her mom and her sister Viola in his arms. Giving him an adorable smile, she threw her bottle; it slammed into the side of his head and knocked him over. She unsteadily came closer then threw herself on top of his chest in a fit of giggles. His joy was boundless; all of his girls were now in his arms.
Lee never discussed his time in the Army and his family didn’t push. He still served his country in the National Guard. Two weeks, every year, he’d have leave his family to serve. But he always felt blessed when he’d return home. When he first got home from war, he worked for the public transit, driving a bus. But he wanted to use the knowledge and experience he gained while he was in the service. During those years he had become a Technician 3rd grade, he was responsible for inspecting and repairing combat vehicles, ships and artillery, he planned, organized and performed every service necessary to keep systems in pristine working condition. He also learned to read blue prints and operate cranes, the management of materials, infrastructure planning and many other skills. So the next job he got was as an Oiler. In addition to maintaining and repairing the cranes, he had to guide the cranes, keeping them clear of obstructions and power lines. He did this for a few years, but watching the Ironworkers up on the steel called to him.
Lee got a job of apprentice Ironworker; it was a thrill to be high in the air, balancing on a 6 inch wide beam. It was dangerous and could be scary, but he took pride in the abilities he learned. Some called Ironworkers crazy but, it took confidence and courage to do this job, he figured the opportunity to raise his family with the comforts he hadn’t had as a youth, worth it. He advanced rapidly; he had a natural ability to lead men. He became a foreman then superintendent, the men under him respected and liked Lee, he was fair and he wouldn’t make someone do anything that he himself wouldn’t do.
As Lee’s girls grew older; they always knew their Dad would be there for them but, he didn’t raise them in a conventional manner. Though they were taught to be ladies, it wasn’t unusual for them to be out playing baseball or laying bricks with him. He taught them to be self sufficient, but he was always there to catch them if they fell. The girls eventually married and had children of their own.
Lee and Vi now had time alone together, this was something new. They finally got to really know each other. They did everything from dancing to fishing, just enjoying each others company. Even though Vi didn’t really enjoy the roughing it life style she would sometimes go with Lee on his hunting trips. It was a time of peace and quiet, just being in nature with no one else around, usually…..
They were up on a hill, watching below for any signs of deer. Lee tapped her shoulder and pointed behind them; a big buck had just topped the hill and was about 15 feet behind them. Lee slowly rose and put his rifle to his shoulder. A shot rang out, but it wasn’t from Lee, he fell to the ground. Someone had shot him. Vi didn’t panic; she wrapped her bandana around the wound of his upper thigh. She didn’t find anything to wrap around the lower wound where the bullet came out, so she tore part of her shirt and then wrapped it too. She helped him down the hill to their truck, shouldering most of his weight. On the frantic drive down the mountain, she kept up a steady stream of chatter, he would answer occasionally, but mostly he was tight lipped, trying to deal with the pain and to stay conscience. They arrived at a small town hospital; Lee was rushed into surgery that is when Viola broke down. She couldn’t live without him; he was her rock, her shelter.
“Mrs. Henderson?” The doctor asked.
“Yes! Is he alright? Is he going to be okay?”
“He lost a lot of blood but, he will be fine; the bullet went all the way through with minimal damage. He’s awake now; you’ll probably be able to take him home in a day or two. You can go back if you’d like.”
Vi followed the doctor back and threw herself into Lee’s arms when she saw him. Lee wrapped his arms around her and thanked God for being with them.
Lee recovered from his wound with only slight pain as a reminder, he wondered at life, all those years in the war, he suffered nothing more than a scratch. Yet he’d been hit by a car in his youth, fallen from the iron, years before, he had been able to catch himself on the way down, wretching his shoulder but it had saved himself from serious injury, now he had been shot. Despite all that he was still alive and kicking, God was truly watching over him.
As life continued, he got to cherish his grandchildren. And they had a wonderful Grandfather to look up to, whether he was teaching them to ride dirt bikes or fish.
Play pool or build things he was always there. He enjoyed dancing with his only granddaughter in their living room, to 'Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy' by the Andrew sisters or 'Glow worm' by the Mills Brother. actually any songs from the 40s were a favorite played on the stereo. Vi (Nana) would dance with the grandsons too. He enjoyed watching the kids play ‘Gargoyles’ with the dogs as they climbed on the swing set he’d built for them, but mostly he enjoyed when they crawled into his lap and fell asleep, knowing they were safe in his arms.
From only receiving a seventh grade education, he had built a good life. The trials and traumas of life had been his teacher and he had excelled at it. He had been blessed with all he ever wanted, a loving wife, wonderful daughters, amazing grandchildren, a his longed for great grandson and many friends. Many of those friends and co-workers would say they were blessed by knowing Lee. His family knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that they had been blessed to have this amazing man. God had been good to him.
Garland Leroy ‘Lee’ Henderson
Born April 25, 1922
Died June 11, 1982
I have called you by name
You are mine….
You are precious in my eyes...
And you are loved….. Forever and always
By what name do I call my superhero? I call him Grandpa!
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True hero a real man ,dont make them like that anymore. My grandpa
No they sure don't
What a lovely story. My grandpa will always be my hero :)
Grandpa's are the best lol. Thanks for commenting.
This was such a touching story. One that needs to be printed and given to the great and great great grand children so they all know what an amazing man there great grandpa was. You don't get to hear many stories like these any more. Makes my heart very happy.
Very touching story of the true heroes out there. Enjoyable read