Army Staff Sgt. (retired) Clinton “Hank” Henry, 84, of Hinesville, fought in three wars and earned a Purple Heart for wounds he received in the Korean War, but never before has he had the opportunity to visit his nation’s capital. Henry will be given the chance this Friday, when he and 26 other area veterans and their guardians board an early morning Amtrak train for the next Honor Flight Savannah trip to Washington, D.C.
The local Honor Flight chapter serves veterans who live in coastal Georgia and South Carolina. So far, 81 veterans have visited national war memorials and Arlington National Cemetery since the chapter began scheduling trips in October 2009, Army Reserve Ambassador and Honor Flight Savannah board member Luis Carreras said.
Henry enlisted in the Navy at age 16 during World War II. He said he was 5 feet, 11 inches tall and weighed 180 pounds at age 13, and by the time he was 16 he looked like he was 20.
“They didn’t ask nobody how old they were then,” he said. “They just wanted bodies. We had a master sergeant in Korea who was 12 years old.”
The young seaman boarded a LST-475 (Landing Ship Tank) and sailed to New Guinea, where his ship was part of a naval convoy tasked with transporting Marines.
“We were on our way to invade Japan,” Henry said. But the Japanese surrendered before they arrived, so he became part of an occupying force instead, he said.
In 1947, when Henry couldn’t find a good-paying job after his first war service had ended, he decided to reenlist. A Navy recruiter told him to get his parents’ written consent to re-enlist because he still was so young. Henry said, “The heck with that,” and he walked across the hall to the Army recruiting office. He served in the Korean and Vietnam Wars and retired from the Army after 25 years of service.
Henry was in the 7th Cavalry Regiment in 1950, when the Korean War began.
“It was Gen. Custer’s old outfit; which is why we had so much trouble over there,” he joked.
He recounted how he and a group of soldiers were pinned down in a foxhole. They were being fired upon by North Korean and Chinese troops positioned in a thick forest. There were several U.S. Army trucks parked across a runway from the foxhole. Henry, who already was wounded in the hip from grenade shrapnel, led his comrades to the trucks. Some made it, some didn’t.
“I jumped behind a little hill but didn’t jump far enough,” Henry said. In addition to the shrapnel in his hip, he also was wounded in the thigh by a machine-gun bullet when he ran for the trucks.
“They patched us up and sent us back to Japan,” he said.
Henry served in Vietnam from 1965-66.
“That was some sorry crap,” he said. Henry said he was in an engineer-supply company, and weapons were kept under lock and key. He said not having guns at the ready was foolish. At that time, troops only could fire if they first were fired upon, Henry recalled.
He retired from the Army in 1968 after “25 years, nine months and eight days.”
Henry then embarked on a 20-year career with morale and support in Hanau, Germany, managing a bowling center for American service members. He met his future wife, Patricia, there.
“I’m excited for him,” Patricia Henry said of her husband’s upcoming D.C. trip.
The couple moved to Hinesville in 2003. Henry, whose medals had been destroyed in a house fire, was re-issued a Purple Heart in October 2008. Third Infantry Division commander Maj. Gen. Tony Cucolo pinned the medal on Henry in a ceremony at Fort Stewart’s Marne Garden.
Carreras said the next Honor Flight Savannah training for guardians will begin at 11:30 a.m. April 30 at the Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum in Pooler.
For more information, go to www.honorflight.org or call 876-4331.