Paul Henry, who fought 77 years ago to end all wars, will be honored today by veterans of several more recent conflicts.
The 104-year-old World War I corporal will receive the Veterans of Foreign War’s Cross of Malta decoration and a lifetime membership in the Hillyard VFW Post 1474 during a Veterans Day ceremony at 2:30 p.m.
Most of those who will pay tribute to Henry weren’t born when a bullet severed his helmet strap as he charged from a trench in the Ardennes region of northeastern France.
A few aging World War II veterans will remember the forested plateau as the site of their war’s Battle of the Bulge. None of them will remember Henry’s buddy Orrie Johnson, but many VFW members will think of other young men who never came home from Korea, Vietnam or other foreign battlefields.
Henry was 26 when he and Johnson volunteered in Texas for the American Expeditionary Force that went to Europe in 1917 to help the beleaguered French and British.
Johnson wanted to be in the cavalry, but decided to take his chances with Henry in the infantry after trying a few strong-willed horses and ironlike saddles.
A gala dockside dinner in England with King George VI soon gave way to blackened bodies in the French countryside. Henry and his companions marveled that so many black soldiers had died. Then they learned the corpses were whites who had lain unburied so long their skin turned black.
“He said, up to that time, nobody ever thought about dying,” said Henry’s son, Isaac Henry of Coeur d’Alene.
The younger Henry recounted the stories his father never liked to tell and now doesn’t tell.
As Paul Henry’s unit of the U.S. 1st Army marched to the front, German machine guns opened up on them and the troops dove for cover. Henry and two others wound up on their bellies behind a log.
Henry thought bugs were crawling on his back while his unit repulsed the attack. Later, he discovered he was pelted with splinters as bullets ripped through the top of the log and passed inches over his back.
The American troops were on their way to the Argonne Forest, where French revolutionaries and royalists fought in 1794 and Napoleon III surrendered in 1870. World War I, known at first as the Great War, combined the outmoded tactics of previous wars with machine guns, modern artillery and poison gas.
Generals futilely tried to overcome machine gun fire with massive charges of lightly armed foot soldiers.
The result was carnage on a scale the world had never seen. Nearly 10 million men died and 21 million were wounded, far more than in all the wars of the previous 100 years.
Henry was one of the lucky ones. He came back and married Pearl Galusha, 89, who still lives at the family home near Springdale, Wash. The couple had 10 children.
In later life, Henry lost much of the feeling in his feet and had difficulty standing or walking. Doctors blamed nerve damage from having his legs wrapped in puttees that were soaked by winter rains.
But Henry was spared when he and his comrades sprang from their trenches for an attack and a bullet severed the strap of his doughboy helmet. Others died in the seconds while he ducked to get the helmet.
He also survived the artillery bar rage that killed Johnson. Henry had just dug a foxhole when the shelling started and Johnson climbed in.
They heard the “wheeeeee” of incoming rounds, each followed by a brief silence and an explosion.
A stickler for regulations, Henry cited the rule against two men in one foxhole. Johnson had no intention of leaving, so Henry did. He was digging a hole when an incoming round whistled louder and closer.
The sound stopped and then the ground erupted. When the dirt settled, Isaac Henry said, “he looked over and Orrie was tossed out of the foxhole and what was left of him was gone from the waist down.
“Dad didn’t talk about it much, but I think he had nightmares for a long time after that.”
He didn’t talk about the war at all when he was visited earlier this week at the Chewelah, Wash., nursing home where he now lives. Instead, Henry retreated to memories of his boyhood in Texas, Arkansas and Oklahoma - a great flood on the Verdigris River, Indians who weren’t allowed to use their own language.
He has difficulty speaking, but surprised family members with a remarkable rendition of a bittersweet song, “After the Ball,” from a musical that opened in New York in 1893, two years after he was born:
After the ball is over,
After the break of morn,
After the dancers’ leaving
After the stars are gone;
Many a heart is aching
If you could read them all
Many the hopes that have vanished
After the ball.
The same might have been said for the War to End All Wars.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: VETERANS’ EVENTS Spokane Veterans Day ceremonies today include: A 21-gun salute will highlight a rededication ceremony at 10 a.m. for the Inland Empire Veterans Memorial that has been relocated to the southeast corner of Mallon and Howard at the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena. The public is invited. U.S. Rep. George Nethercutt, R-Spokane, will speak at a 1 p.m. program at the Spokane Veterans Affairs Medical Center, 4815 N. Assembly. The focus will be on the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II. The public is invited. Hillyard Post 1474 of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, 3004 E. Queen, will honor World War I veteran Paul Henry, 104, at 2:30 p.m. All VFW members and their guests are invited.