Marblehead native John Henderson will never forget his time in Vietnam for a number of reasons. For one, his year-plus spent serving his country in the war is precisely detailed in his 12-inchthick binder.
It neatly holds everything from war photos to maps of where he was deployed.
He doesn’t need it to remind himself of the horrors, however.
Plenty of memories are still triggered almost 50 years later as part of the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder he experiences frequently.
He was 19 years old when he departed for ’Nam. “It’s tough at 19 to handle that,” Henderson said.“It made life harder for me”
Both good and bad memories will always live with Henderson, but strictly good memories will be linked with Henderson’s name throughout eternity.
He will soon be inducted into the Ohio Military Hall of Fame for Valor.
“I never thought I’d be inducted into the hall of anything,” Henderson joked.
He’ll patch up his original green U.S. Army uniform and wear it to the May 2 induction ceremony at the Ohio Statehouse.
Yet another pin will be added to his already colorful collection — a bronze star medal with a “V” device. “It’s quite a deal; it means a lot,” Henderson said.
He recently attended the firstever Ottawa County Vietnam Veterans Commemoration Day.
The event’s intent was to thank Vietnam veterans like Henderson who were largely viewed as the enemy by the anti-war American public during the ’70s.
“You couldn’t get into VFW Post back then it was so bad,” he said. “Now people shake your hand. It means a lot to me”
Countless spectators are expected to attend the upcoming ceremony, one of whom is Henderson’s 91-year-old father. He will make the trip from Arizona to see his boy’s name get etched into the state’s history books.
It won’t be just another name, and Henderson was not just another soldier.
In November 1968, just months after the battle, Henderson received a letter from Army personnel lauding him for his courageous efforts on one particular August day.
“Henderson distinguished himself by exceptionally valorous actions when a large Viet Cong force assaulted the Bui Ba Den Base Camp” the letter read. “... Volunteers were called to act as a reactionary force. Henderson hurriedly armed himself and ran from his billets to join the base camp reactionary force”
It continued: “Although drawing heavy small arms fire and being repeatedly exposed to exploding rocket propelled grenade rounds, Henderson repeatedly moved to the vanguard of the action to lay down a base of fire that was instrumental in containing the ground assault to a well defined area where it was all but decimated by small arms fire and mortar action”
Twenty American men died that day, Henderson said, many who he knew. These experiences have changed his life, but his patriotism is unwavering.
A giant American flag waves from his Marblehead home’s front yard. Red, white and blue banners are wrapped around his front porch.