My guest this week is the epitome of hard work and perseverance. She grew up in the coal mining town of McAlester, Oklahoma, and was the oldest of five siblings. Fiona Henry served her country as a civilian in the American Red Cross from 1943 to 1945. The 97-year-old is remarkably sharp, in great shape, feisty, and possesses a one-of-a-kind sense of humor. She is the perfect example of “old school" from the Greatest Generation.
Mrs. Henry was thrown into adulthood after her mother passed away suddenly when she was 13. “My daddy took me aside before the funeral and said that from now on, I should forget about boys and a life for myself. My life was now dedicated to helping him and bringing up my brothers and sisters…I was now their mother,” she remembered. “My daddy was a sweet man…come home from the coal mines and fall asleep at the table, he was so tired…have two mouthfuls of soup and would doze off."
“I’ve always believed that the Lord doesn’t give us anything we can’t handle,” she said of her childhood.
When she was 20 volunteered for the Red Cross. Her travels would take her through the European Theater—France, Luxembourg, Belgium and Germany. How did she feel through it all? “I was scared to death...I was determined not to let the men know how frightened I really was,” she said. “I drove supply trucks, delivered food supplies and tried to keep everyone’s spirits up…we went everywhere, every hour of the day."
Shortly after arriving in Luxembourg she was plunged into what she called a horrific nightmare. “Oh, the things we saw and heard…came into an Army hospital one day with supplies and all I can remember hearing was this blood-curdling screaming coming from this soldier that had just been at the front…lost two of his buddies…my god, still sends shivers up my spine when I think of it…that screaming,” she recalled.
I asked her if she was still bothered by the memories, and she didn’t hesitate. “Very much so,” she said quietly. “Ya know, we as members of the Red Cross were our soldiers’ only source of morale outside of the USO…we had to be 'up' all the time…smiling, listening, comforting…you could never show emotion…[I] remember when we were visiting another hospital in Belgium where there had been heavy fighting…brought this young soldier in that had his arm blown off and the soldier behind was carrying it so they could sew it back on…my God in heaven, war is such a waste…you never forget those young boys…I hugged so many that I have an indentation on my left shoulder."
I asked Mrs. Henry if she ever met anyone famous while doing her Red Cross duties. “General Patton…oh, the mouth on that man! He cussed out one of his men one day….my heavens, I never heard such language before…but then he would go into a hospital and be moved to tears by the sight of an injured soldier. I will say, he was always the utmost gentleman around us Red Cross ladies…flattered the heck out of us but told us he really appreciated the job we did for the men.,” she remembered.
“I really liked General [Omar] Bradley…total opposite of Patton….quiet, humble…you never knew when he was around…General Patton always came anywhere with sirens blazing and a big entourage,” she recalled.
I asked Mrs. Henry what it was like being away for the holidays and that seemed to hit a chord. “Oh, that was really tough…missed my brothers and sisters (she had two fighting in the South Pacific Theater)…us girls had a little party on Christmas Eve in Germany…we were singing carols and got to ‘Jingle Bells’ and it just hit me…cried all the way through the song…thought of my daddy…brothers and sisters…asked that night for the good Lord to give me strength…and he did,” she recalled.
Did she have a mentor or someone that she looked up to? “My daddy” she said, eyes glistening with a warm smile.
I asked Mrs. Henry her thoughts on her service, and if she ever really knew the impact on the soldiers she had comforted with her words and hugs. “I always bragged to our soldiers when I saw them that I served the best coffee and doughnuts,” she smiled. "I will never forget though, the only regular question the soldiers asked was, ‘Where are ya from?’…think they were looking for some kind of connection,” she said.
Mrs. Henry receives excellent care in the local assisted living facility she stays in and still likes to sing “good, old-fashioned country music.” Both her husband and son have passed on.
Mrs. Fiona Henry, thank you for your service to our great country and for making a profound impact on our soldiers in World War II.