Veterans History Project: Joe Henderson - - Jackson, MS

Veterans History Project: Joe Henderson (Part 1)

By Jennifer Martin - email

Joe Henderson's first stop when he went overseas in World War II was north Africa. He would make his way across Italy and Sicily before he was transferred to Liverpool, England.

"That's where I stayed two weeks before Normandy. In a fallout shelter, I'd say 5000 soldiers. They said of course, 'I'm sure alot of you won't make it. But the ones that do make it have to make up for the ones that don't make it.' And they all said we'd have a tough, tough job. And it wasn't no bed of roses," Henderson recalled.

The Invasion of Normandy began with overnight parachute landings, powerful air attacks, Naval bombardments, and early morning amphibious beach landings. Henderson made his landing along with the 5th Armored Division.

"It was the second wave. The first wave was very near suicide for most of 'em. And when I come on the beach, I crawled, I tried to get off the LST, had a rope tied off the side that you could climb down.  It was so noisy with all the guns, I just turned loose and fell in water, in the English Channel. It was overhead, over my head and I had a 76 pound pack tied on my back. I dumped it, I kept my canteen and I kept my gun. Then I stumbled over dead folks, under the water for about I guess 20 minutes or an hour and coming up to breathe and spit that bloody water out. And then I crawled on the beach finally and I knew they was looking out on us with field glasses. So I rubbed blood off of the dead ones on me and I would be still. And I would see the guns shooting close to me and I continued that I guess an hour, maybe two. It seemed like forever," Henderson added.

"I finally got to where 82nd Airborne had dropped parachutes. They tied knotted ropes on trees and threw it over the edge of a cliff where the pillbox was. And I climbed down and I had a Thompson Submachine Gun, I switched from that to a Browning Automatic. The guy's dead, I figured, he won't need that gun. So I got his gun and from that day on, I kept a Browning Automatic all the time. We was there, I'd say, about a half a day. And then I had to go back to the LST and drive a half track off. We were about two days before we got to Paris. It was pretty rough a few times. It was that long before I could hear talking. You cant imagine the noise all them Naval guns, airplanes."

As lucky as he was to survive the invasion of Normandy, Henderson's life would be in even greater danger in the Battle of the Bulge.

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