Friends, family and brothers and sisters in arms gathered Oct. 20 to honor World War II veteran Robert Henderson in a drive-by parade to celebrate his 95th birthday.
Henderson, and his wife, Bernice, sat in front of their Tehachapi home as dozens of well-wishers drove by and saluted or waved hello. Some stopped long enough to drop off birthday gifts and cards.
"Every day the American spirit shines and Tuesday, Oct. 20 was exceptional. Thank you to the Tehachapi American Legion Chapter 221, the American Legion Riders, the 5150 Dieselz group, American Legion Riders from Antelope Valley, Bear Valley Veterans Association, family and friends for celebrating my 95th birthday with such a thoughtful and most appreciated parade. It was an honor to see not only a tribute to my WWII Navy service, but to all veterans who served before and after me," Bob wrote in an email to Tehachapi News.
Jim Davis, president of the American Legion Riders, Chapter 221 in Tehachapi and coordinator of the parade, was thankful for everyone who participated.
"We are losing way too many of our World War II veterans, and we felt it was our obligation to put on this parade on behalf of his family and him," Davis said. "I want to give a heartfelt thank you to 5150 Dieselz who came out to support and the riders that came down from Ridgecrest and Lancaster. They made the day worthwhile to support Mr. Henderson."
Henderson, who is a decorated veteran, was born Oct. 20, 1925 in Santa Monica. At the age of 17, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy, serving from 1943 to 1946.
Henderson began his military service in San Diego before being deployed to the Philippines on the "Call of the Minorities Cruise," as an aviation ordnance man.
During his nine-month deployment, Henderson's main responsibility, in his words, was to take care of guns and bombs.
"Bob is a humble man who downplays his role. He says he was lucky as he didn't see as much action as his brothers-in-arms. One day, I asked him what he did while in the Philippines. His nonchalant response was, 'Oh mostly arming and disarming bombs.' I was speechless, but in truth it was very characteristic of Bob. He was just doing his part, not for the glory, but because it needed to be done and it was important work," said Christine Tincher, Henderson's stepdaughter and Bernice's oldest daughter.
After his deployment in the Philippines, Bob was an ordnance instructor in Oklahoma and later a gunnery instructor in Florida before his enlistment was up.
"A bit of an adventurer, Bob took on many challenging tasks and even piloted gliders," Tincher said.
During the Philippines Campaign, Bob received the following:
- Distinguished Flying Cross (20 flights)
- Four Air Medals (for 20 flights into enemy territories)
- Good conduct medal
In 1946, Bob married his childhood sweetheart, Milena "Millie" Bily. Millie also carried out an important post while in the Navy. Millie was an aerographer. Daily, she analyzed meteorological data and prepared forecasts for Navy pilots. Together Bob and Millie created a lifetime of memories and were blessed with three children, Susan, John and Roberta. Sadly, Millie passed away several years back due to health problems, according to Tincher.
"After the heartbreak of losing Millie, Bob didn't know what more life had in store for him. He certainly never expected he was going to be lucky in love twice in his life. That is until he found a lovely redhead in the parking lot at his apartment complex. Soon they learned they had a lot in common and it wasn't long before the two were inseparable," said Tincher.
Bob and Bernice (Winkler-Stagner) married Nov. 26, 2018. The wedding was attended by their children (Bernice had five children from a previous marriage) and many other members of their extended families.
Wrote Henderson, "I am overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and patriotism, shown by my fellow service men and women, community, family and friends. Thank you for the birthday wishes and the honor."