Jim Henderson will never forget the date of his graduation from Jefferson High School in Roanoke. It was June 6, 1944, D-Day.
Henderson was immediately drafted into the Army and reported for duty that September. While in Florida for what was supposed to be 17 weeks of training, the Battle of the Bulge began. Henderson’s training turned out to be only 10 weeks as replacements were needed to fight in Belgium.
As he sailed across the ocean to France aboard a French luxury liner, the trip was anything but luxurious. On board were 10,000 troops that Henderson said were “packed like sardines in bunks four high.”
Once there, Henderson’s unit replaced the 258th Combat Engineering Battalion. He recalled the significance of the Americans crossing the Rhine River into Germany on March 21, 1945. For several hours that morning he lay on the river’s west bank with artillery flying overhead from behind him until everything became quiet.
Then, he said, “The sky became black with American bombers.” It was a sight that he said he found comforting.
After the bombing and the infantry had crossed the Rhine River, Henderson recalled seeing long lines of Germans walking toward his group as they surrendered.
“It is a day I will always remember,” Henderson said.
The Germans surrendered on May 8, 1945 around the same time that Henderson had turned 19 years old.
Henderson spent two years in Germany, serving as a dispatcher for an engineering unit that sent trucks out.
In late 1946, Henderson returned to the United States to finish his duty at Fort Meade, Maryland. Once he returned home, Henderson headed back to school to take additional college preparatory courses while also working at MW Windows (Ply Gem).
One of Henderson’s business school accounting teachers — who also was a colonel in the reserves for an artillery unit — persuaded Henderson and several other young men to join the reserves.
Not long after that, the Korean War began. In August 1950, Henderson’s unit had been activated, and after training he boarded a ship for Japan to take him to Korea. He left California on March 17, 1951, arrived in Japan on April 1 and in Korea seven days later.
As he got off that boat and came ashore in Pusan, Hendrson thought to himself, “That’s the end of the world.”
After a year of serving the 780th Field Artillery Unit, Henderson returned home in April 1952, having built up enough points to be discharged. Upon his discharge from the military, Henderson went back to work at MW Windows where he worked for 45 years as an office manager and controller.
Henderson and his wife, Hazel, who met on a blind date, have been married for 65 years and have lived in Rocky Mount for more than 50 years. They have three children: son, Mark, and two daughters, Jill Prillaman and Amy Henderson, along with six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
At 93, Henderson is still active, although he stopped playing golf about three years ago. These days, he enjoys spending time with family, watching TV and serving as a member of the American Legion.
While he served in combat zones, Henderson said he was thankful not to have been in hand-to-hand combat. “I was always proud to be there and able to serve,” he said.
Jill Prillaman said the family is proud of her father. “We are all so proud of my dad, not only for his service, but for being the person we all look up to,” she said. “He loves his community, friends and family, and we all love him.”