LISTEN to Jim Henderson on Hometown Heroes
91-year-old Jim Henderson of Novato, CA appears on episode #350 of Hometown Heroes, debuting January 17, 2015. Born in Louisiana, he grew up in Diamond Springs, CA, where childhood memories include collecting “colors” – little pieces of gold – after a big rain storm. You’ll hear him remember growing up there with five sisters and two brothers, as well as the unique way he learned of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and why that made it difficult for him to get home from his job at a San Francisco service station.
Once he turned 20 in the spring of 1943, Jim was drafted into the Army, interrupting his studies at the University of San Francisco. His two brothers were already involved in the war effort, one in the Quartermaster Corps, the other a B-24 pilot in the Pacific. After basic training in Texas, where “the mosquitoes were as big as model airplanes,” Henderson entered the Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP). When casualties overseas heightened the need for soldiers, ASTP was disbanded, and Henderson was assigned to the 104th Infantry Division.
Heading overseas in August, 1944, Jim served in a mortar platoon with Company D, 413th Infantry Regiment.
Listen to Hometown Heroes to hear Jim’s vivid recollections of what he experienced as the men of the 104th fought through France, Holland, Belgium, and Germany, earning a reputation as fierce night fighters. You’ll hear about his first taste of combat, and how he learned what the German 88mm guns were capable of. The most harrowing moments for Jim came at the Mark River in the Netherlands. Henderson feels the division crossed the Mark too soon, as evidenced by the need for a “strategic withdrawal” back to the other side. When orders came to cross the river again at 11 p.m., Jim was running across a footbridge constructed by combat engineers. Crossing under enemy fire, Jim fell through a spot in the bridge where German artillery had damaged the boards. You’ll hear him recall how terrifying it was to find himself in the icy water, hanging on to the bridge while 60 pounds of ammunition on his back threatened to pull him under. A soldier from his company named Lutz, with help from a combat engineer, helped Jim to safety by cutting the water-swollen straps on his pack, releasing the mortar shells to the bottom of the river.
Once he made it across the bridge, Jim collapsed from exhaustion. When he woke up, his unit was gone and he was all alone. You’ll hear how he made it back to his heavy weapons company, and how he feels about the actions that earned him the Silver Star. On November 27, 1944, Jim ran 75 yards to rescue Henry Bryan, who had been wounded and partially paralyzed by an enemy artillery round. Even though Bryan outweighed him by about 20 pounds, Jim dragged the soldier back to safety.
Jim tells his story with detail and emotion that only he can provide, and he also tells it with sincere humility. If you encounter this youthful nonagenarian, please thank him for serving our country.