BARNSDALL — Loyal Henson’s face lights up with a smile when he recalls his return to the beauty of the Osage County countryside after his service in the U.S. Navy between late 1942 and 1946.
Loyal and his brothers, Raymond and Robert, left the sea of grass in which they had grown up and became U.S. Navy sailors doing their best to help the nation prevail in the titanic worldwide struggle that was World War II. More than 400,000 Americans died in the war. The number of wounded exceeded 650,000.
Raymond, Loyal and Robert Henson, who grew up in Barnsdall, were blessed to come home and rear children and participate in the life of their community. The brothers are in their 90s now — Raymond is 96, Loyal is 94, Robert is 92 — and remain full of lively humor.
The joke going around the table last Friday at Loyal’s house at lunch was that they were fighting “the battle of the bulge” — the bulge that might be caused by the pizza they were enjoying together.
Loyal extended that humor to the subject of their ages, suggesting they were “running a race with Methuselah” — a reference to the Biblical figure who reportedly lived 969 years.
“He’s a little ahead of us right now, but we’re catching up,” Loyal said with a laugh.
The Hensons were the sons of Nathan Edward and Pearl Catherine Miller Henson. Nathan Henson worked at the local gasoline refinery. There was a fourth brother, but he passed away at the age of 6. The Henson brothers attended school in Barnsdall.
Raymond and Loyal joined the Navy in 1942 and Robert followed them in June of 1943. Raymond and Loyal made Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class, and Robert, who entered the Navy a few months later, was working on it. Raymond and Robert came home in 1945, and Loyal stayed on until 1946.
“I had enough points to come home twice,” Loyal recalls, but he explains that he was still unmarried and the Navy sent the married sailors home first.
Raymond served on a fuel tanker called the Lake Erie, and on the Montauk, a vehicle landing ship that transported both vehicles and fuel. Loyal served on a heavy cruiser, the Minneapolis. Robert served on the U.S.S. Saratoga, an aircraft carrier.
“I thought I would always like to swim rather than wade mud,” Raymond said, talking about his choice of the Navy. “I changed my mind about that when they put me on that tanker.”
Though their assignments were separate, the paths of the Henson brothers did cross a couple of times during their service. Robert recalls a time when he was busy loading groceries on the Saratoga during a supply stop at an island somewhere. He saw a pair of feet walk up to where he was working and took a look. It was Raymond.
“He stayed to dinner time,” Robert said. “We pulled out just as soon as we loaded up.”
Another time, during another stop the Saratoga made somewhere, Robert recalls hearing a message over the loudspeaker, “Robert Henson is wanted at the gangplank.” This time it was Loyal. The Minneapolis was stopped at the same place.
Robert also experienced the temporary grief of thinking at one point that he had lost Loyal. Word came that the Minneapolis had been destroyed and all aboard were lost. But the message turned out to be erroneous. The Indianapolis, not the Minneapolis, had been sunk by the Japanese.
“That’s Tokyo Rose who told you that,” Loyal said, referring to the false report of the sinking of the Minneapolis.
When the U.S. used two atomic bombs to end the war with Japan, the Henson brothers were still in service. They were in the fleet headed for the Japanese mainland in the event that an invasion was necessary.
When their service ended, the Henson brothers came home and went to work. Raymond, who preached a Mothers Day sermon this spring, devoted more than 60 years to the ministry, including 45 years at Avant Baptist Church. He only retired from regular ministerial service at age 94 and a half, his son Tim noted. All three brothers currently attend Barnsdall Baptist Church.
Raymond had five children, three boys and two girls. Loyal had three girls, and Robert had a boy and a girl.
And despite their advancing ages, the brothers occasionally make it out to hunt and fish. They saw the world as young men, but found their lives and love and fulfillment on their return to Osage County.