Editor’s note: World War II officially ended Sept. 2, 1945, when the Japanese signed surrender terms. We’re honoring the war’s area veterans over the next several months with these brief profiles.
Born: Sept 18,1915
Dates of service: May 4,1941 to Aug. 6, 1945
Lives in: Clovis
Theater or location of service: Pacific — Australia and Philippines
Unit and specialty: 46th Engineers: Road and runway construction.
After discharge: Farwell
Veteran Organizations: American Legion and VFW in Muleshoe, Texas
With bombs dropping overhead, Henderson and his unit were busy building a runway. On the island of Layte, almost immediately following the invasion, the engineers were sent in to begin construction so that things could be made operational as quickly as possible. Of all the places they were sent to build, Henderson remembers Layte as the most difficult, “they tried harder to get us out of there than any place I can remember” Henderson said, referring to the Japanese who fought fiercely against the invasion.
When the bombers would come in, the men would drop their work and scramble. “We had our ‘scare holes’ (fox holes) we’d get in. When the alarm sounded we’d get in those holes. That was what we were trained for” he said, explaining that doing construction under combat conditions was their whole purpose. Running into problems early on, the men were told that they had six days for the project. Under pressure, working in three shifts round-the-clock and under fire, the men struggled to complete the task. Before they could finish the runways, Henderson recalls that the Japanese bombed several carriers at sea, leaving the planes no where to land but on the unfinished runways at Layte. Trying to make the landings as smooth as possible, graders would go through as the planes came in to smooth out the ground. Luckily all landed without incident.
Henderson recalls that the tempo of their pace was such that they didn’t have time to celebrate when a job was completed, instead they found themselves regearing for the next challenge. A high point for the men was when they were finally sent to Australia for a break, Henderson said with a chuckle, “We really celebrated. We made all the bars and dance halls. We did things like young fellows will do.”
In retrospect, Henderson said, while the experience wasn’t exactly what he expected, he doesn’t regret it. “I was one that didn’t think the Japanese would be anything to whip — I found out how wrong I was. I was gone over four years. Looking back we was scared to death and then part of the time we was having fun.”
World War II profiles are compiled by CNJ staff writer Sharna Johnson. Contact her at 763-6991 or by e-mail: