PEARL HARBOR -- Ashes of Pearl Harbor survivor, Machinist's Mate 1st Class William Henderson, were scattered into the calm waters at the USS Utah Memorial on Ford Island, Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam during a ceremony March 10.
Henderson was born Nov. 12, 1922 and joined the U.S. Navy the day after his 18th birthday Nov. 13, 1940. Following graduation from Recruit Training Command, he received orders to the Brooklyn-class cruiser USS Helena (CL 50) in Pearl Harbor.
On the morning of the 1941 Japanese attacks, Henderson was asleep in his rack and awakened by a general alarm calling for all crew to report to their battle stations.
While getting dressed, the ship was hit by a Japanese torpedo, knocking out the power throughout the ship and flooding the engine and boiler rooms. Henderson managed to make it to his battle station shortly after a brief state of unconsciousness.
Capt. Larry Scruggs, deputy commander of Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard, spoke at the ceremony about Henderson's dedication and bravery he put forth that day.
"I am sure he felt that this was his last day as he ran to perform his duties as trained," said Scruggs. "He would witness his world forever changed that day, and yet, he would go on to serve his country honorably, with passion and courage, and a deep commitment to his shipmates."
Despite extensive damage, the ship was repaired and returned to full active status, deploying to sea as a part of the task force to intercept the Japanese fleet in October 1942.
Henderson continued to serve in the Navy and on the Helena during the Battles of Esperance, Guadalcanal and Kula Gulf, in which the ship was hit by three torpedoes, breaking it into three parts and ultimately sinking.
In an excerpt from his book "Escape from the Sea" he recalled the night he survived the Japanese attacks on the Helena in the Kula Gulf in great detail:
"For us the battle was over but we had lost eight officers, 186 enlisted men and four Marines. Most of them died while manning their battle stations during the fight. Some severely wounded men managed to abandon ship but later died in the water or aboard the rescue ships. They were all shipmates who made the supreme sacrifice. Some were friends, men with whom I had been on liberty. They will be sorely missed until we are all called to meet the Supreme Commander."
After the sinking of Helena, he was later reassigned to the attack transport USS President Polk (AP 103) and served until the end of the war and later discharged in 1947:
"I feel very fortunate to have survived the war without a scratch or wound. To this day I have a poignant feeling for the Helena, but have no desire to repeat the harrowing experience of action in the South Pacific. I left the Navy after serving a six year hitch and worked thirty six years for the Pacific Telephone Company in California, retiring in 1984. Francis and I have three fine daughters, three great son-in-laws and six wonderful grandchildren. How sweet it is."
To show his feelings and love for the Helena, he named all three of his daughters after the ship. They all have the same initials C-L-H after the cruiser light Helena.
Henderson's son-in-law, Mike Danaher, talked about many of the things Henderson did to continue to honor his shipmates even after he retired.
"He raised money and ran a sculpture competition to build a World War II memorial in our hometown and now that's the focus for the 4th of July activities," said Danaher.
His family mentioned that Henderson began to collect stories from surviving shipmates and put them into his book.
"He did a lot to honor his shipmates and he would really appreciate this," said Danaher.
"I'm thankful for all the fine men and women who contributed to the ceremony," said Fran Henderson, his wife of more than 63 years. "I feel appreciation for the many years I had with my husband and his contribution to the war."
"He was a hero to his family, the Navy, and the United States," said Jim Taylor, Pearl Harbor Survivors Liaison who spoke at the ceremony. "His desire was to make a final voyage to Pearl Harbor and have his remains returned to honor his fellow friends and shipmates lost during the attacks. Thanks to the efforts of his family, his wish has came true."
Henderson passed away in August 2013. His ashes were returned to the site of the attacks to join his shipmates and received full military honors including a flag presentation, playing of "Taps," and a three-volley rifle salute from members of the Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam Honors and Ceremonies and a member of the Pacific Fleet Band.