- Associated Press - Sunday, June 7, 2015

COLUMBUS, Miss. (AP) - John R. Henry brought two duffle bags home from World War II. He locked them, put them in the attic and told his wife Margaret to never touch them.

She didn’t.

When Henry died in 1978, Ken Stickney, a family friend, was helping the family clean out the Henry home in Columbus. He found the locked duffle bags among what Margaret Henry described as “three generations of stuff,” carried it downstairs and cut it open with a knife.

What they found inside became the subject of Stickney’s master’s thesis and recently also became the bulk of a donation to the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, which sent representatives to Columbus to retrieve the items and interview Margaret Henry.

Henry, a Columbus native, was a war correspondent for the International News Service, the wire service founded by William Randolph Hearst. He wrote stories first from Washington D.C., covering the Army and Navy and then from landscapes of increasing exoticism. He accompanied the first troops to England, became friendly with Walter Cronkite while they both reported the battle of Casablanca off of Morocco’s coast and covered U-boat action off of Brazil’s shoreline.

In 1943, he was assigned to the Pacific theater. He was the first to interview the pilot of the Enola Gay after it dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima. He covered the surrender of the Japanese on the USS Missouri.

He was also the only war correspondent, as far as Stickney could tell, who covered the war from five continents: North America, Europe, Africa, South America, and Asia.

Despite his global career, Henry’s son John Jr. said his dad always especially liked to find a Mississippian to interview.

Columbus was always home.

Henry was born in a house, which his grandfather built in 1902. His family has deep roots in Columbus, with one of his ancestors even naming the town in 1821, according to Margaret.

When John and Margaret married in May of 1955, it was an obvious choice to return to his childhood home in Columbus.

“I don’t think he ever would have come back to Columbus if he couldn’t have this house,” Margaret said, “It meant everything.”

Although the house was not built early enough to be antebellum, Margaret decided to name it anyway. “The Fourth Estate” is a nod to journalism as a societal force outside of the traditional three estates of English society (clergy, nobility and commoners). A fitting choice for a home that housed “a journalism family,” as Margaret called it.

When John died in 1978, Margaret decided to stay.

“I could have gone back to Atlanta, I still had family there,” she said. “But I just love Columbus and I love this house. It’s been a real family shelter.”

Three of Margaret and John’s four children became journalists as well, validating the name that Margaret gave the house years ago.

Two of these children, Taylor and John Jr., remember their dad sharing a few wartime stories with them. But by and large, John’s experiences remained locked in military-issued duffle bags in the attic. This reaction to combat was not uncommon.

“Most people, when they came back from the war, didn’t talk much about it,” Coleman Warner, a special assistant for internal and CEO communications at the National WWII Museum, said. “Some may have spoken with their families later in life, but they didn’t speak about it in much detail.”

For this reason, the museum tries to capture as many wartime stories, like John Henry’s, as they can. Since its opening in June of 2000, the museum has received over 4 million visitors, and it contains over 7,000 personal accounts from veterans, with many being digitized and placed online as research tools. Margaret was glad to be able to add her husband’s stories to the archives.

“It’s an honor to me that they want it,” she said. “And I think my husband would be thrilled. This way they’ll be preserved, for everybody to see.”

The material donated to the museum by the Henry family includes John’s notes and letters, original pictures, and first drafts of stories that were often censored and edited by the time they reached American news. Foreign governments and even the Office of War Information would censor information they found potentially damaging to domestic morale. During WWII, there were 16,000-17,000 official government censors on the news, according to Stickney’s research.

“A lot of what (John) had you could see where they cut out paragraphs with scissors,” he said.

This information is especially important to Warner and Tommy Lofton, an oral historian for the National WWII Museum, because they said the museum does not have as much material from war correspondents as from other aspects of the wartime effort.

“Combat GI’s were typically only looking at what was happening in front of them,” Lofton said. “When an enemy’s coming, you’ve kind of got tunnel vision. But correspondents were able to get the whole picture of what was going on in the battle.”

Warner agreed that correspondents provided a unique and important perspective.

“It shows the relationship between the war experience and the people trying to interpret the war as it happened,” he said. “(Correspondents) conveyed the sacrifice that these service members were making, and as they say, they provided the first draft of history.”

___

Information from: The Commercial Dispatch, http://www.cdispatch.com

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