Charles R. Henry, a long-time resident of Cranbury, has died. He was born in 1925 in Brooklyn, New York. During the depression era, he described coal being delivered by horse-drawn wagon and that his boyhood duties included shoveling coal for heat, bathing, and cooking. He was in boy scouting many years, and graduated from Bushwick High School in Brooklyn in June 1942. As soon as he was old enough, he joined the Army Air Corps and trained as an aviation cadet, and proudly considered himself to be part of the Army family.
As a cadet, he recalled standing at attention in the hot Alabama summer sun at Maxwell Field, where some cadets passed out. He was pleased when he was selected to be a pilot. As training progressed in Idaho, he nearly lost his life when a brand new B-24 he was piloting inexplicably lost power on both starboard engines, with one catching fire. He and his co-pilot successfully crash landed in a nearby prairie with no injuries to anyone on the 10-man crew. He went on to lead this same crew in 26 missions over Germany and Nazi-held territory, flying from a makeshift base near Bari, Italy in 1944 and 1945.
On one of those 26 missions, a piece of flak from an anti-aircraft shell burst through the windshield, nearly hitting him. He saved that as a memento after later recovering it. On another flight, he was almost forced to ditch the aircraft in the Adriatic Sea at night, but was able to find a way back thanks to spotting flares at a sister airfield.
After the war, he went to Fort Monmouth, New Jersey where he met and later married Lt. Gladys McGill of Cranbury, who served as an Army personnel officer during the war. He was then assigned to the Philippines, where he again narrowly escaped death. He was a co-pilot in a B-17 when a rubber life raft spontaneously deployed immediately after takeoff, wrapping itself around the control surfaces at the tail section. After returning to Fort Monmouth, he separated from active duty in 1947 in the rank of First Lieutenant, but remained in the reserves for five years. During this time, he worked for a propeller company while completing a bachelor’s degree in aeronautical engineering from New York University. In 1964, he was granted a license as a professional engineer from the state of New Jersey. He also earned a MS in Management Science from Fairleigh Dickinson University.
He returned to government service as a civilian employee at Lakehurst Naval Station and then at Fort Monmouth, where he was instrumental in many engineering projects. A highlight of his career was designing and building a prototype communications pallet for the Blackhawk helicopter, tested to withstand a certain number of G-forces in a hard landing. He relished working with soldiers on projects such as this, and had great respect for them.
He volunteered as Assistant Scoutmaster for Boy Scout Troop 52 in Cranbury for nearly 3 years in the 1960s and as Scoutmaster for one year. Thereafter, he pursued some hobbies, including renewing his pilot’s license and flying small aircraft, as well as obtaining a black belt in Ju-Jitsu. There were many reunions of his old bomber crew which he attended, beginning in 1962 in Minneapolis, with the last formal one being in 1999 in Colorado Springs.
He retired with 43 years faithful Federal Service, but lost his wife only 3 years later. After her death in 1996, he lived alone but made several trips to visit with his children and their families, sometimes taking Amtrak rail across the country. He and his sons went to Italy in 2010, where he visited the site of the airfield at which he had served. He found that the farmhouse which had been used as the group headquarters was still standing.
He is survived by his sons, Andrew and Christopher; four grandchildren; and three great- grandchildren.
Donations to his memory can be made to Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge #68, 1 Logan Drive, Cranbury, NJ 08512.