MARINE CORPS LOGISTICS BASE ALBANY, Ga. --
The Pentagon was just one of the many places around the country where individuals paused to remember those who were Prisoners of War and Missing in Action Friday.
More than 750 miles south of Washington, in a small town called Americus, Ga., 1st Sgt. Shane E. Henson, company first sergeant, Headquarters Company East, Marine Corps Logistics Command, served as one of four guest speakers for the sixth annual “The Ride Home” event hosted by Rolling Thunder, Inc.
More than 175 former POWs participated in this year’s event which was the largest attendance ever for the host organization.
The Web site, www.powridehome.org, gives details about the mission and purpose of Rolling Thunder, Inc., a nonprofit organization with more than 85 chapters across the United States.
Though many of their members ride motorcycles, it is not a requirement to become a member.
Henson, who joined the Marine Corps in January 1993, kept the large crowd erupting in laughter at the beginning of his speech – all without prepared notes.
“I am humbled and honored by the opportunity to speak to you today, especially to the more than 170 former POWs in attendance. I don’t think anyone ended up here by mistake. We are all well aware of why we are here and it’s because we are doing our part to keep the promise,” he said.
Henson then told the crowd to remember that at the bottom of the POW/MIA flag, it says ‘you are not forgotten.’
“We must do our part in that and continue to recognize our ex-POWs and those missing in action. Let us not forget the families and their sacrifices and their suffering.”
“I want to tell you a story. I was recently sitting in a bar on a layover between flights. I know most of you don’t believe that at this point – that a Marine was sitting in a bar, but it’s true,” he said as the crowd erupted in laughter.
Henson continued, “Lo and behold I was watching the news and having a drink. This gentleman came up and sat next to me and because I was in civilian attire, he had no idea I was a Marine.
“There was a man on the news talking about increasing veteran’s benefits and he made reference to a young soldier that became missing in action in 1968. The gentleman looked over at me and asked what I thought about that,” he said.
Henson said he told the gentlemen that he didn’t really hear what he said because he (Henson) couldn’t hear out of his left ear and his right one doesn’t work well.
“He began to tell me what the man on the news was speaking about and said that he didn’t know why we would increase veteran’s benefits.
“Since I could hear him better than the television, I continued to listen. He asked what made the soldier more special than him and why should he get more benefits. My job is just as dangerous as his,” he said.
Henson said he asked the guy what he did for a living and he told him he was a propane truck driver, which caused more laughter from the crowd.
“I looked up to see if the good Lord was filming this and thanked the gentleman for having that cool job. I told him we use propane at my house and appreciated them for bringing it,” Henson continued.
“He then asked me what I did for a living to which I responded, sir I’m a Teufel Hunden. Then he gave me a strange look and asked what it was.
I told him it was a nickname the Germans gave to United States Marines when they determined that we fought like rabid dogs and were mean as the devil,” Henson said.
Henson said that at that point the gentleman began to shrink and he began to grow as the guy asked him if he was a Marine.
Here is the rest of the conversation:
Henson: Let’s talk some more about the significance of the veteran’s benefits you mentioned. Have you, like that young man, been in a fire fight delivering propane?
Man: No, but that propane truck is just as deadly as an improvised explosive device.
Henson: Did you go to and graduate from high school sir?
Henson: That’s good, so did I. I will assume you had a history class?
Henson: How many famous propane truck drivers did they talk about in your history class?
Man: Don’t get me wrong sir. I appreciate what you all do, but they pay you guys an awful lot and when I need extra money, I work overtime.
Henson: Ok then. Let’s go back to the veteran’s benefits discussion and talk about that young soldier who was just referenced on the news. He punched the clock to go to work in 1968 and he hasn’t punched out for lunch yet. Let’s use some of that math with the veteran’s benefits and see if you can figure out what you think we might owe him in overtime.
“Stunned, I think he finally got the point that he wasn’t winning the argument and by then he knew exactly what a Teufel Hunden was. I’m sure he also realized that if the conversation continued about veteran’s benefits and he had a few more beers, that it would probably be a bad day and someone might miss their flight,” Henson added as the crowd laughed once again.
“To each of you, which I consider family, and to the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, their families and especially the ex-POWs and those missing in action, thank you.”
Jim Moyer, chairman, event coordinator, The Ride Home, said, “First Sergeant Henson was absolutely awesome. He kept everyone laughing and entertained and certainly had their attention.
“He is a tremendous young man, and I am happy he was here with us today. It was a packed house and we have more than 170 former POWs with us.
“He made it a quality service, and we thank him for being a part of our ceremony,” he said.
The end of the ceremony featured a special performance after it was introduced by a visiting chapter.
Bob “Bulldog” Housley, state director, Tennessee Chapter of Rolling Thunder, said, “In 2006, I was lucky enough to have been involved in a motorcycle accident that almost took my life. I say that because I was unable to attend our Memorial Day event in Washington. However, I was lucky enough to make it to one put on by the Vietnam Veterans in Galveston, Tenn.
“I had the good fortune to meet a woman, Nancy Hunter Plough. She was married to Army Spc. James Hunter who has been missing since 1968.
“After all those years, she thought no one cared and that she was on her own. She lived with that loss and it dominated her life. We adopted her into our chapter and took her to the Vietnam Wall in Washington so she could get an etching of his name. She told us how she met and fell in love with him. Her story was so profound,” he said.
Housley joked and said that by living in Nashville, we turn everyone’s thoughts and feelings into music.
“But this story was special. Nancy met Tena Rogers, who visited the laundromat on a few occasions. They talked about her missing husband and Rolling Thunder. The lady said you have to meet my son, Jared, who happens to be the nephew of country music star Kenny Rogers,” Housley said.
Jared wrote and performed the song, “True Love Story” at the end of the ceremony. He received a standing ovation.
“My mother called me (in tears) to meet Nancy, who carried the story she had written about her husband with her for years. I asked to borrow it, took it home and in a short period of time, had the song ready for her to hear. We have been close ever since and I have performed for Rolling Thunder several times,” Jared said. “All of the speakers were great and the Marine was really funny. I really enjoyed him and the other speakers.”
Retired Master Sgt. Stephen Thompson, family and veterans liaison, Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, said, “We are proud to be a part of this ceremony each year. Just this year, we have gone out on 68 recovery missions and have identified 89 MIAs. As long as there is a Joint Command, we promise not to stop until we bring them all home.”
Grady Golson of Wilson, N.C., said “As the emcee today, I thought it was awesome. The singing talent was unbelievable and as I watched the POWs from up here, I could see that they were all touched by the ceremony today and really enjoyed the speakers, especially the first sergeant (Henson).”
Housley, whose husband is still MIA said, “I have been carrying my husband in my heart and wrote our love story many years ago. He will be missing 41 years in October and it tears my heart up to hear the song. I cry every time I hear it and it is perfect not only for me, but his ceremony as well.”
The Ride Home multi-day activities ended Saturday following a recognition ceremony at the National POW Museum in Andersonville, Ga., where the Albany Marine Band also performed.