Opinion

75th Anniversary of Henry’s Story – Love of America

LoveHe had a full-hearted love of America – of family (seventh of eight children), faith (came early and never lost it), history (which he revered), and by extension you. That’s right, of you. Every American should know his name, his selfless story, and his legacy of love. Maybe you do?

His name was Henry Waskow, born in Texas, trained in Massachusetts, deployed to World War II’s Italian Campaign late 1943.  Exactly 75 years ago January 10th, Pulitzer-winning reporter Ernie Pyle, wrote a column about Henry.  The story is epic.  Two movies are based on it.  The column hit 400 papers that day, was reprinted in Time magazine.

Few are alive who read that column fresh, but here’s the gist.  Henry grew up serious-minded, determined to learn, had a penchant for math – and for serving others.  Described by Rick Atkinson in “Day of Battle,” Henry was a short, blue-eyed, self-effacing kid.  He was also unusually self-aware, almost prescient.  And he loved America.

In high school, he wore clothes made from sack cloth, served as a teenage lay minister, became class president.  As a friend recounted, “he was never young… not in a crazy high school-kid way.”  That said, he was always grateful and knew his faults.  In college, he signed up with the Texas National Guard.  In June 1939, he turned down a teaching job – sensing the world war was coming.

Deploying to Italy, Henry penned his “just in case” letter to family. “If I seemed strange at times, it was because I had weighty responsibilities that preyed on my mind and wouldn’t let me slack up to be human like I wanted to be.”  He was about duty, taking care of others – his mission.

Approaching Naples, Henry was just 25, already rank of Captain, a full company under him, part of the 36th Division.  Their objectives were two, Sammucro and then a second mountain, San Pietro.  Leaning in, his men fought hard and took Sammucro.  Going was tough.  Henry never flinched, even when his company was whittled to platoon-strength.  Up he led.

Pyle wrote how men felt – the common soldiers. Of Henry, common soldiers said remarkable things.  “After my own father, he came next.”  “He always looked after us, he’d go to bat for us every time.”  “I’ve never knowed him to do anything unfair.”  His men followed, because Henry led – with all his heart.

The Americans did take San Pietro.  It was a turning point, a key juncture in what history calls the Italian Campaign, part of World War II that got little ink – which may be why Pyle wrote about Henry.  What Pyle wrote is hard to read, but true to life.

Wrote Pyle: “I was at the foot of the mule trail the night they brought Capt. Waskow’s body down …the moon was nearly full …you feel small in the presence of dead men.”  He did, at least, in Henry’s presence.

Formal honors included medals, Purple Heart, Legion of Merit.  Quiet acts mattered more.  Henry was loved – because he loved America and loved his men.  One by one, they moved in the moonlight, found their fallen captain, spoke to him.  They held his hand, straightened his collar points, knelt beside him, and thanked him – some “awfully tenderly.”

That column, written of 75 years ago, was powerful.  Henry personified the American soldier’s selfless sacrifice, devotion to others, what makes a leader a leader.  But there is more – from Henry himself.  Fifteen years after that column, Henry’s sister released a letter from Henry.  The letter accompanied his “last will and testament.”  Fragments say it all, reminding us of his gift.

To the family, Henry wrote: “God alone knows how I worked …to make myself a worthy leader of these magnificent men, and I feel assured that my work has paid dividends—in personal satisfaction, if nothing else…. I felt so unworthy, at times, of the great trust my country had put in me, that I simply had to keep plugging to satisfy my own self that I was worthy of that trust.”

“I would have liked to have lived … but since God has willed otherwise, do not grieve too much, dear ones, for life in the other world must be beautiful, and I have lived a life with that in mind all along …  I was not afraid to die, you can be assured of that.”

Seeing the future and looking back, his last lines were for family – but somehow also for us.  He hands forward the love of freedom – to our safe keeping.

“I will have done my share to make this world a better place in which to live.  Maybe when the lights go on again all over the world, free people can be happy … If I failed as a leader, and I pray God I didn’t, it was not because I did not try.”  “I loved you,” he added, “with all my heart.”

That is Henry Waskow, retold by Ernie Pyle who fell at Okinawa, reaffirmed by Rick Atkinson’s splendid WWII trilogy.  So, when we say “freedom is not free,” nothing is truer.  Men like Henry – and like Ernie – made possible our freedom today.

Our mission is to pass that love – of America, freedom and each other – forward to the next generation.  Simply put, on this unbroken promise does America’s future depend.  On these seemingly small anniversaries … we are again reminded, if we will pause, ponder and recall.

If You Enjoy Articles Like This - Subscribe to the AMAC Daily Newsletter!

Sign Up Today
Read more articles by Robert B. Charles
Subscribe
Notify of
48 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Frank S.
8 months ago

If only more of us were like Henry Waskow. The country, indeed the world, would be a better place. Another member of the greatest generation….

Veteran
8 months ago

Even as a veteran myself I feel a great debt of gratitude to those who came before me and those who served with me and paid the ultimate price; a far cry from the displays currently exhibited in Congress by Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar who giggle and laugh while American military casualties are discussed. Freedom isn’t free, it is always paid for in blood, sweat, and missed holidays, birthdays, anniversaries,…; the one small way to repay that cost is to vote accordingly to ensure a strong military and decent treatment of those who keep us safe. A ‘thank you… Read more »

Shoe
8 months ago

very proud of the way that Pompeo and Munchin this morning handled the Iran sanctions and press questions. It took a while but Trump has put together an impressive Cabinet‼️

Jay
8 months ago

Tears in my eyes…..When in grammar school we had to give reports on Ernie Pyle’s articles. Almost 87 now and I remember it all too well. Those men were the true heroes of our time.

Peanut
8 months ago

This is a beautiful story. Even more, it is true according to all sources. May we all create in ourselves a love of God, country, and others.

Paul W
8 months ago

Thank you for sharing, Mr. Charles. God Bless Capt. Henry Waskow, and all of the real American heroes…past present and future.

Ken Jenner
8 months ago

Words aren’t enough to express the sorrow, pride and gratitude that I have for those who’ve served and given all. It’s because of their strength, that should bring us to our knees, and thank God for what He has given us and the responsibility to keep it.

Morbious
8 months ago

Few can live up to Henry, but we must try in however small ways we can. I read Ernie Pyles books years ago and recall that scene. The Italian campaign was brutal, cold and muddy and isnt as well known as Normandy but many of our best fought and died there.

John Karkalis
8 months ago

Thank you for a truly inspiring story.
Sadly there are many Henrys whose bravery, commitment to duty, and decency will go unreported.
Henry, sadly, would be out of step with our current, privileged college youth.
Don’t expect to hear Henry’s story read in a university classroom today. It would clash with the prevailing “political correctness ” spirit.
Thanks to Henry and countless other self sacrificing young men who died much too young we continue to speak English.

RED
8 months ago

I still remember the courage and strength that I received from my Lt. Cdr. while under enemy fire in Viet Nam in 1972 while serving with the U. S. Navy. I would have gone to my death with that man.

Anita Cole
8 months ago

Thank you so much for this. It made my day.

M. Franklin
8 months ago

Great and touching story. Every Liberal, Leftist, Socialist, and Progressive (but I repeat myself), should be forced to read this. And then read it again and again, and again, and again, etc. until it actually sinks in and somehow finds their ‘brain’.

Marta
8 months ago

Thank you AMAC for Henry’s story and thanks to those who replied eloquently with uplifting words in these depressing times.

Allison Skibba
8 months ago

I was very moved by this article! The men and women who do their best according to God’s calling, but are overlooked by most of the world, are the true heroes! God bless them and their families!…and God continue to bless America!

Charles
8 months ago

Pray that TIME magazine wakes up and gives our President and First Lady the respect and recognition they deserve. The bias the TIMES reveals is shameful and I’ve stopped reading and buying their magazines

Josephine pooley
8 months ago

Amazing men in “the greatest generation”! So grateful we have these memorials to remind us that freedom is not free!

AC GILES
8 months ago

THANKS RB CHARLES!!
ARMY VN 67′

Wayne D Peterkin
8 months ago

A wonderful tribute to a remarkable man we would all do well to learn from.

Gordon Grochau
8 months ago

More people need to read this, to see how a true American can become a goal for all of us to reach for. God Bless our true heros.

Tony
8 months ago

Thank you, AMAC. I needed that.

48
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x