Ahead of 100th birthday, Brewer WWII veteran shares memories of his service

Retired U.S. Navy Lieutenant Ed Hendrickson flew dive bombers in WWII
Ed Hendrickson
Ed Hendrickson(WABI)
Published: Nov. 11, 2020 at 11:11 AM EST
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BREWER, Maine (WABI) - The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates fewer than 2,000 men and women who served in World War II live in Maine today. This Veterans Day, we’re shining the spotlight on one of them, Retired U.S. Navy Lieutenant Ed Hendrickson.

(This is part one of a two-part series. Part two can be seen here.)

“I always knew I wanted to fly,” Hendrickson recalls. “I can remember that from when I was a little kid.”

Hendrickson’s love of aviation really took off in college.

“I went to Wentworth Institute in Boston and took up pattern making. That’s one of the first things I made was a propeller for an airplane. That was a part of knowing I wanted to fly.

Ed still has the model propeller.

In 1942, he finally got his chance to fly, leaving Wentworth to enlist in the Navy. While he soon had the flying part down, it was the landing that took some practice.

“On my very first try, my wheel hit the carrier deck, and I went and flopped right upside down in Lake Michigan,” Hendrickson says of his first training exercise off an aircraft carrier. "I had a job to get out. I had to kick and thrash to get out. Finally, after I got out, they came and picked me up. The captain of the ship at that time said, 'It’s a hell of a time to go swimming.”

That was November 23rd, 1943.

Nearly 50 years later, in 1990, a private company recovered the airplane from Lake Michigan.

“He didn’t talk about the war for a long time,” his son Eric Hendrickson said. “As kids, I can remember getting in the attic and getting in his uniforms. We were always told to stay out of the stuff, don’t ever go near it. They finally pulled his plane out of Lake Michigan. Then he started talking about it, telling stories. As he met more of his buddies from the aircraft carrier, he talked even more.”

Hendrickson’s SBD-3 Dauntless dive bomber is now on display at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans.

“I’ve seen it a couple of times. I did quite a number [on it],” Hendrickson said with a chuckle.

That was Hendrickson’s last faulty landing, a lesson he’d need almost a year to the day later.

“I was flying near Manila somewhere,” Hendrickson recalled. “I was hit with some anti-aircraft, and a bunch of bullets hit me. They put a hole around my wing right near where the landing gear was. If I landed in the water, boy, I’d be captured, and I didn’t want that.”

Instead, he made it back to the ship safely.

He remembers that happening during the week of his birthday. During that same week, another incident occurred that Henrickson said is the memory of war that sticks out the most.

“It was either on my birthday or the day after... We had to take turns on anti-submarine patrol, and I happened to be picked that day for anti-submarine,” Hendrickson said. “I spotted a Japanese plane up in the air. And there were no Japanese planes around there, at least they weren’t supposed to be.”

“The fighter, which is faster than I am, got a little bit ahead of me and I could see him shooting bullets and all of his bullets were all going over to the right. And then I finally caught up to the plane and I shot it down. They tried to say, credit for half a plane for each of us, and then they looked at our gun cameras and they gave me full credit. He didn’t even hit the plane. He forgot to put his gun sight in! It didn’t make him very happy. I never did get to meet him. He was from New Hampshire, I know that.”

Though it took some time, Hendrickson now fully embraces his status as a veteran. He never misses marching in a parade - Memorial Day, 4th of July and Veterans Day, but those were all canceled this year. He hopes to return to the streets in 2021 at 100 years old.

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