Monday, December 10, 2012

Major Lofton Henderson Remembered

Major Lofton Henderson
Back in November around Veterans Day, I featured Lorain native Corporal Charles J. Berry in a post by request. In a comment left on that post, Alan D. Hopewell reminded me that Major Lofton Russell Henderson – another Lorain native and Marine hero who gave his life for his country – should also be remembered here. So here is that post.

Major Lofton R. Henderson is well known for leading his squadron to attack the Japanese forces during the Battle of Midway, and consequently becoming the first Marine aviator to perish in that battle.

The 1942-43 Lorain High School Scimitar provided a nice capsule summary of his heroics:

On the fourth of June, 1942, Major Lofton R. Henderson and his small group of Marine Corps aviators took to the skies over Midway to defend the island from an attacking Japanese invasion force... Major Henderson and his greatly outnumbered group of scout bombers spotted the Japanese fleet and launched the attack... His plane... the leader was hit... immediately it burst into flames... He deliberately maneuvered his light bomber... plunged into the smokestack of an enemy carrier... He knew what he was doing... It cost him his life... but the destruction of the carrier was assured... His act of heroism spurred our forces on to that historic sea and air victory... That day the sun set... A Japanese sun, too, was setting... Control of the Pacific was in American hands.

In honor of Lofty's supreme sacrifice the United States Navy changed the name of the airfield on Midway from which he launched that epic attack... Later at Guadalcanal the "fighting leathernecks" defending that island also named the blood-soaked airfield there... Henderson Field... in memory of the man who delivered THEIR "Answer to Tojo."

Here is the Lorain Journal's front-page account of his actions (below). (Click on it for a readable version.) His parents were quite magnanimous when discussing his death.

Major Henderson posthumously received the Navy Cross for his heroism. The citation reads:

The Navy Cross is presented to Lofton R. Henderson, Major, U.S. Marine Corps, for extraordinary heroism as Squadron Commander of Marine Scout-Bombing Squadron TWO HUNDRED FORTY-ONE (VMSB- 241), during action against enemy Japanese forces in the Battle of Midway on June 4, 1942. With utter disregard for his own personal safety, Major Henderson, with keen judgment and courageous aggressiveness in the face of strong enemy fighter opposition, led his squadron in an attack which contributed materially to the defeat of the enemy. He was subsequently reported as missing in action. It is believed he gallantly gave up his life in the service of his country.
The 21st Street (High Level) Bridge in Lorain was renamed the Lofton Henderson Memorial Bridge in his honor in October 1991. (And as we know, the bridge approach from the east is named Henderson Drive.)
The website includes an excellent and detailed biography of Major Henderson that includes some great photos. It also addresses the debate as to whether or not his plane was the one that was piloted into the smokestack. 
It doesn't really matter. Henderson remains the consummate hometown hero who not only gave his life for his country, but whose heroics inspired countless others during World War II to focus on defeating the enemy.

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