Age didn’t keep this Marine from serving during WWII era
Barely a teenager, Eugene Hendrickson decided to serve his country during what has become known as the deadliest conflict in human history. He was just 15 when he served in the guards and 16 when he joined the U.S. Marines in 1946.
And, yes, he fibbed about his age in order to make the sacrifices. “You’re supposed to be 17,” Hendrickson admitted last week from his motorized scooter that allows him to get around his Owatonna home. He dropped out of high school to join the Marine Corp.
At the time, Hendrickson had three older brothers serving in World War II from 1941-45. One of them served in the Battle of the Bulge, another in the Pacific War and the other in the Merchant Marines. “They left me at home and that didn’t seem right,” he said.
While in the Marines, Hendrickson served in Japan before being sent into China. He also went on to Guam while preparing to fight in Korea. He ended up battling in the Korean War for about 18 months.
During conflict in Korea, Hendrickson recalls several close calls. “That’s why I got no hearing,” he said pointing to his ears. He had no ear protection when shells were coming within 70 feet of his head. “It deadened my hearing. I couldn’t hear for about a day afterwards.”
Hendrickson vividly remembers what Japan looked like after World War II ended in 1945. For Hendrickson, one word comes to mind: “Disastrous.” He went on to say, “There was a lot of destruction. Every town we went into was flat.”
He recalls seeing many starving Japanese children and mothers out and about looking for food. “I felt sorry for them and there was nothing I could do for them because I didn’t have nothing myself,” said Hendrickson. “I didn’t feel good about the way they had to live and eat,” he added.
Asked if he feels anything good came out of the war, Hendrickson responded, “Not really.” He is disgusted because at the time officials said World War II ended all wars. “That’s all we’ve had since then,” he said, adding “now we have a war here with this epidemic (referring to the COVID-19 pandemic).”
Hendrickson has been on in-home hospice care since last October. He lives with his wife, Selma, in Owatonna. Nurses come into the home at least twice a week to take care of him. “I’m dying,” he says. “Losing blood.”
He is proud of the fact that he got to eat yet one more summer of the tomatoes his wife grows.
Selma is proud of her husband’s military accomplishments dating back to World War II. “They always say once a Marine, always a Marine. You better believe it,” she said confidently. “Sometimes I think he is still in the Marines.”
She credits the Marines with helping her husband grow up to be a gentleman. “They did a good job,” Selma related.
Hendrickson spoke of great fondness of being able to serve in the Marines. But, he quickly added, he would never want to go back to that lifestyle again. He said, “Now it would be terrible. I don’t want to go back in the war or anyone else.”
Many years after the war Hendrickson ended up graduating from high school with other veterans that had dropped out.
Hendrickson proudly shows off a small shrine of military mementos and keepsakes in a kitchen cabinet. He also has a photo album featuring military photos as well as a letter from President Harry Truman thanking him for his service.
After returning back to Owatonna from the military, Hendrickson worked at Jostens and eventually on the railroad for 31 years.