Dick Henry of Foxwood subdivision in Englewood piloted a “Higgins Boat,” a plywood landing craft, in six major invasions during World War II. However, the closest he came to being killed during the war was in a typhoon one night off Okinawa.
“We were headed back to Pearl Harbor in our LST (Landing Ship Tank) to pick up another load of troops and equipment when the typhoon hit,” the 84-year-old local resident said. “It was bad and I was scared, more scared than I ever was in battle.”
He began his naval career serving aboard a troop transport as a 17-year-old deck hand.
“I made three complete trips around the world aboard the troop transport called the ‘West Point,’” Henry explained. “I got sick and tired of serving aboard that converted luxury liner, so I decided to jump ship and get into battle.
“When I saw the ‘West Point’ sail out to sea I turned myself into authorities. I spent Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s in the brig. They finally let me out and put me aboard an LST headed for Pearl Harbor and battle,” he said.
“I sailed aboard LST #34 headed for Kwajalein as a member of the crew of a ‘Higgins Boat.’ It was a 36-foot long plywood landing craft with a single Grey Marine engine that transported 36 Marines and all their gear in the landing craft to the beach,” Henry said.
“Our LST was anchored a couple of mile off the beach at Kwajalein. We took the troops ashore and deposited them. It was bad, but I didn’t give a damn because I was only 19,” he said. “The enemy was shooting at us as we were coming in. Mortar shells were landing all around our boat, but we didn’t get a scratch.
“What really concerned me was the $1,100 I won in a poker game the night before the invasion. What the heck was gonna happen to my money if we got hit? I wasn’t worried about dying I was worried about losing my cash,” he recalled with a smile six decades later.
By the time his LST took part in the invasion of Saipan, Henry was the coxswain of the “Higgins Boat” on LST #34 – he was the man in charge. His boat had a crew of four: two deckhands, a motorman and himself.
After Saipan, Henry participated in the Guam invasion and from there he was involved in the invasion of the Philippine Islands and finally Okinawa.
“I was in the first wave of ‘Higgins Boats’ on the far left at the Leyte Invasion in the Philippines. All we had in our boat was an Army captain. The captain’s job was to survey the beach before the invasion, so we had to take him within 100 yards of shore,” he said.
“When we got within a half-mile of the beach I said, ‘Captain this is close enough ain’t it?’ Henry inquired.
“’Keep going,’ the captain replied.
‘We’re getting closer captain’ I said next.
“Keep going,’ came his reply.
“Mortar shells were splashing in the waster all around our ‘Higgins Boat.’ Finally we were about 100 yards off the beach. The captain got a look at the shore; I turned our boat around and headed back to our LST.
“When we got back to the ship the Army captain immediately started loading our ‘Higgins Boat’ with ammunition. Eventually I told the captain he was overloading our boat, but he paid me no attention,” Henry said. “We were putting more ammunition aboard my ‘Higgins Boat’ when it sunk. It went right straight down to the bottom.
“I don’t know whatever happened to the captain. I don’t think I made the invasion at Leyte because I had no ‘Higgins Boat.’
“Our next invasion was Okinawa. It was a tough one. I can remember bringing troops into the beach during that invasion,” he said. “I can also remember the suicide pilots at Okinawa. The kamikazes never hit our LST, but we had a lot of fun shooting at them. It was raining flak from our own antiaircraft guns at Okinawa.
“The crazy part about the Navy, they never showed us how to do anything. My battle station was on a .20 millimeter antiaircraft gun on our LST, but I wasn’t shown how to fire it. A couple of us had to figure it out by ourselves as the enemy plans were coming in,” Henry said.
“It was the same way with he ‘Higgins Boat.’ They put me on one and told me to run it. That was the extent of my training and I’d never seen one before,” he said.
Coxswain Dick Henry and his boat crew survived six major invasions in the Pacific Theatre of Operation during the Second World War without injury. Then they sailed into a typhoon and almost went down with their ship in the storm.
“It hit us at night. I got so scared I got in my bunk down below and stayed there during the storm holding on,” he said. “It was the only time I was scared during the war. It was over the next morning.
“We sailed on to Pearl Harbor. We were sent from Pearl back to Long Beach, Calif. I was discharged and got married. This Nov. 9, Dick and his wife, La Donna, will celebrate their 65th Wedding Anniversary. They have lived in Foxwood subdivision in Englewood since 1986.
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Florida on Thursday, Feb. 4, 2010 and is republished with permission.
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