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Mother Henne


Edwin Henne is celebrating his 90th birthday today at his home in Moorhead. There was a night, some 60 years ago in Manilla, when he thought he wouldn’t live until morning.

Ed was serving with North Dakota’s highly regarded 164th Infantry, which gained widespread fame for action taken at Guadalcanal during World War II. In fact, that was where Henne had his first combat experience; he lost two friends from his hometown of Garrison in that battle. As time progressed, he earned the nickname “Mother Henne” from his men, because he took such good care of them.

Henne was actually eligible to receive a farming deferment when the war broke out. “But,” he says, “Pearl Harbor made me mad, so I went in.”

After cleaning up Guadalcanal, the regiment moved on to Bougainville to take the island back from the Japanese. Twenty-eight year-old Henne had become a sergeant by then and was leading mortar and machine-gun squads.

Ed took his squad out ahead of the front lines one night to help an American combat patrol pinned down by Japanese mortar fire. Unfortunately, Henne and his men were discovered. Henne was hit in the chest with shrapnel, but some of his buddies were in worse shape than he, so he went looking for help. Henne found a medic, but he was about to amputate a soldier’s leg to keep him from bleeding to death. The medic couldn’t do it alone and told Henne he’d have to help him. Henne didn’t know it at the time, but the wounded soldier was Tony Bogdanish, who pitched for the St. Louis Cardinals before the war.

Henne knew he had to get the medic back to his wounded buddies, but he wasn’t prepared for this. “Sure,” he says, “back on the farm, I delivered baby animals – calves, lambs,” but this was a whole lot different. With heavy artillery pounding around them, Ed helped the medic sever Bogdanish’s leg. “I even forgot I was bleeding,” he said.

Afterwards, Henne threw away his blood-soaked jacket, got back to his squad, and was able to lead them back through enemy lines to relative safety. For his actions that night, Henne won his first Bronze Star and a Purple Heart.

Henne spent the next three months in the hospital recovering from his chest wounds. When he rejoined the war, his unit was now in the Philippines, where the Allies were trying to push back the Japanese.

One night in Manila, Henne’s commanding officer told him to protect a large number of American Jeeps and trucks by protecting an intersection a block away. Henne had several men with him, but they hadn’t slept in three days, and Henne was the only one awake when Japanese soldiers started coming down the street. He threw a grenade and, using a field telephone, called for a flare to expose the enemy.

“I threw all the grenades and ammunition I had at them,” he says. “I didn’t think I’d make it through the night. But the next morning I was still alive.” Henne won his second Bronze Star for this action. He had held the enemy at bay, killing five and wounding others. His citation says he then remained at his post for the rest of the night “despite heavy enemy small arms and grenade fire.”

Happy birthday, Mother Henne. And, thank you for what you did...

Source: The Forum. September 12, 2004.

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm