New information from a new search on Ancestry.com, and new information from military records have provided me with some new and updated information regarding William Alvin Henson II, the navigator flying with the John Oliver Buslee crew of the 544th Bomb Squadron of the 384th Bomb Group of the 8th Army Air Forces in WWII on 28 September 1944.
To view my original post and other information about William Alvin Henson II, please see the links at the end of this post.
William Alvin “Bill” Henson II was born 8 June 1923 in Atlanta, DeKalb County, Georgia to father William Alpha Henson (1896 – 1956) and mother Gertrude Sproessig Henson (1897 – 1991). In 1923 the family lived at 235 E. Georgia Avenue in Atlanta, DeKalb County, Georgia, in or near the Grant Park neighborhood.
Note: William Alpha Henson’s middle name is sometimes reported as Alvah or Alfred, but the spelling is confirmed as “Alpha” through both Bill Henson’s birth certificate and Aviation Cadet Personnel Qualification Questionnaire.
Bill’s father, William Alpha Henson, was born in Chattanooga, Hamilton County, Tennessee on 28 January 1896. Since the younger William was a “II” rather than a “Jr.,” he apparently was named after another family William. His grandfather was Henry Hamilton Henson. His great-grandfather was named William Henson, possibly the William Alvin Henson for whom William II (Bill) was named. Bill noted on a military service form that his father’s ancestry was Scotch and Irish.
William Alpha Henson fought in WWI. His service number was 1862756. He was a PVT 1st Class and fought with Battery “B,” 317th Field Artillery. At the end of his military service, he returned to his home at 29 Rossville Avenue in Chattanooga, Tennessee on the ship U.S.S South Carolina, departing Brest, France on 27 May 1919.
Bill Henson’s mother, Gertrude Lena Sproessig, was born in Germany and immigrated to America in 1906 according to the 1930 census and her father’s, Max Alwin Sproessig’s, Petition for Naturalization. Her father listed her given name as Milda Lina Gertrude on his papers.
Max Sproessig’s naturalization papers note he was born in Nünchritz, Germany, which is a municipality in the district of Meißen (Meissen), in Saxony, Germany. He, his wife, and two daughters (including Gertrude) immigrated to America, departing Bremen, Germany on 5 April 1906 and arriving in Baltimore, Maryland on 17 April 1906 aboard the ship Gueissenau. The Sproessig family moved to Chattanooga, Tennessee after immigrating to America. The papers also note Max’s wife died in November 1911.
William Alpha Henson and Gertrude Lena Sproessig married on 23 February 1920 in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Bill was one of three children of William and Gertrude Henson. The Henson children were,
- Doris Elizabeth Henson (Vaughn) (1921 – 2004)
- William Alvin “Bill” Henson II (1923 – 1944)
- Milda Jeanne Henson (Herzog) (1925 – 2017)
Gertrude Lena Sproessig Henson, born in Germany, became a naturalized citizen through her marriage to William Alpha Henson.
The 1930 Federal Census reports that the Henson family lived at 177 North Main Street in Conyers, Rockdale County, Georgia. The household included father William A (age 34), mother Gertrude L (age 32), daughter Doris E (age 8), son William A (age 6), and daughter Milda J (age 5). William’s parents owned a furniture store and both worked in the store.
A “Physical Examination for Flying” military form noted that Bill Henson broke his left forearm in 1934. He would have been ten or eleven years old at the time.
The 1940 Federal Census reports that the Henson family lived on Milstead Avenue in Conyers, and had lived there since at least 1935. Bill’s parents still owned the furniture store in 1940. Bill’s military records (Aviation Cadet Personnel Qualification Questionnaire) confirm the Henson’s exact street address in the 1940’s as 172 Milstead Avenue.
On 14 June 1942, Bill Henson’s sister, Doris Elizabeth Henson, married Clarence Roland Vaughn, Jr. Clarence Vaughn was house majority leader of the State of Georgia during the Carl Sanders, Jimmy Carter, and George Busbee governorships. He was also a judge and a war hero in his own right. Doris and Clarence lived in Conyers, Georgia all their lives. David Powell, Bill Henson’s grandson, shared this information with me and also told me that Doris could not mention her brother Bill without crying and leaving the room.
The Hensons had two homes in 1944, a city home at 2398 Ponce de Leon Avenue, N.E., Atlanta, Georgia, and a country home/farm at 172 Milstead Avenue in Conyers, Georgia.
George Edwin Farrar’s parents (my grandparents), Raleigh Mae and Carroll Johnson Farrar, lived fairly close to the Henson’s Ponce de Leon address at 79 East Lake Terrace in the Kirkwood neighborhood of Atlanta.
Education and Civilian Employment Prior to Military Service
William Alvin Henson II graduated from Conyers High School on 10 June 1940. Following high school, he attended The Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina for two years, where he majored in Business Administration and participated in R.O.T.C. (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps). He also served for four months in the Georgia State Guard.
On military service forms, he noted he participated in the sports of baseball, tennis, equitation (horse riding or horsemanship), and basketball. His active hobbies were photography and rifle or pistol shooting.
Bill Henson’s civilian employment included working at his parents retail business, Henson Furniture Company, from June 1936 to January 1943, mostly during school vacations. He earned $192 per month selling furniture and collecting (payment) for merchandise.
Entry into World War II Military Service
On 30 June 1942, exactly the same day 384th Bomb Group navigator Chester Anthony Rybarczyk registered for the WWII draft, William Alvin Henson II registered at Local Board No. 1 at the Rockdale County Courthouse in Conyers, Georgia. Bill Henson registered just two weeks after his sister Doris got married. Note: William Alvin Henson II replaced Chester Anthony Rybarczyk as navigator on the Buslee crew’s B-17 on the fateful mission of 28 September 1944.
Bill Henson listed his Place of Residence as Milstead Avenue, Rockdale County, Georgia. He noted his Mailing Address was the same. William’s Employer’s Name was noted as Student, Charleston, but Place of Employment was Conyers, Rockdale County, Georgia. He was 19 years old and born on 8 June 1923 in Atlanta, Georgia.
Mrs. W.A. Henson I (his mother) of Conyers, Georgia was the person who would always know his address. (I find it odd that he would note his father as “I.” Was using “I” and “II” the family’s way of naming William II (Bill) after his father, but with a different middle name? Gertrude’s father’s middle name was “Alwin” and it was sometimes written as “Alvin,” so perhaps Bill Henson was named after both his father and his maternal grandfather and the “II” was not used in the traditional way).
In his draft registration form, Bill Henson described himself as 5′ 10″ tall, 135 pounds, with gray eyes, brown hair, and a ruddy complexion. He noted no “other obvious physical characteristic that will aid in identification.”
Application for Appointment as Aviation Cadet
On 5 October 1942, William Alvin Henson II filled out an Application for Appointment as Aviation Cadet. He noted on his Aviation Cadet Personnel Qualification Questionnaire that he was single with no dependents and was living at his parents’ address. His mother, Gertrude Lena Henson, was his emergency contact.
Bill Henson’s mother and father signed the form giving their consent to the application. The presidents of two local banks and a local attorney wrote recommendation letters for him. The attorney noted in his letter that,
There is no one more loyal to Government than he and his family, for some time he has been endeavoring to obtain his parents consent to enter the service, this having been withheld only on account of his youth.
On 6 October 1942, the Aviation Cadet Examination Board met in Atlanta, Georgia to examine William Alvin Henson II, applicant for Aviation Cadet appointment. The board found him mentally, morally, and physically qualified for appointment as an Air Crew Aviation Cadet and recommended his appointment.
On 6 October 1942, William Alvin Henson II enlisted in the Air Corps Enlisted Reserve in Atlanta, Georgia. His enlistment record notes his residence as Rockdale County, Georgia, and that he was born in Georgia in 1923. His Army Serial Number at the time of enlistment was 14147774. Note: Officers were reassigned with a new serial number when they were commissioned and Bill’s later become O-761431.
At the time of his enlistment, the record notes William Henson II had completed 1 year of college and was single, having no one dependent on him for support. His Civilian Occupation was noted as Salesperson.
Note: Bill Henson’s enlistment record is found in the Reserve Corps Records, rather than in the Enlistment Records file, link below.
Effective 31 January 1943, William Alvin Henson II was called to Active Duty at AAFBTC No. 9, Miami Beach, Florida.
William Alvin Henson II’s Chronological Statement of Service and Training notes,
- From 2-1-43 to 2-28-43. Private. Miami Beach, Florida. Air Corps. Basic Training. Active.
- From 3-1-43 to 5-1-43. Private. Air Corps, Knoxville, Tennessee. C.T.D. Active.
- From 5-1-43 to 6-7-43. Private. Air Corps, Nashville, Tennessee. Classification. Active.
- From 6-11-43 to 9-9-43. Aviation Cadet. Aviation Cadet detachment., S.A.A.A.B. (San Antonio, Texas). Pre-Flight. Active.
- From 9-11-43 to 12-4-43. Aviation Cadet. Aviation Cadet detachment., V.A.A.F., (Victorville, California). Bombardier Training. Active
From 11 September 1943 to 4 December 1943, William Alvin Henson II attended Bombardier School at Victorville Army Air Field in Victorville, California. He took the 12 week/3 month Bombardier training course, which included instruction on the Norden bombsight.
He graduated from Bombardier School at Victorville Army Air Field, Victorville, California, Class #43-17, 4 December 1943 and was commissioned as 2nd Lieutenant. Upon release from the Bombardier School at Victorville, William Henson was assigned to the 2nd AF, 18th Replacement Wing, Salt Lake City, Utah on 4 December 1943.
Bill Henson’s continued training chronology includes,
- 15 January 1944 HBC, AAF, Alexandria, Louisiana. Bombardier, (Phase Training), 105 hours, MOS 1035 Bombardier. The Alexandria location was the home of the 469th Combat Crew Training School.
- 2 April 1944 AL 4-2 Prov GP, Bombardier
- 5 April 1944, KAAF Kearney, Nebraska (a last stop in the States on the way into combat in the European Theater)
William Alvin Henson’s mother, Gertrude Lena Sproessig Henson, left Germany on 5 April 1906 at the age of eight to begin her journey to America. Exactly thirty-eight years later, on 5 April 1944, her son William began his journey in a brand new B-17 his crew picked up in Kearney, Nebraska on his way to England to fight in the air war against his mother’s native country of Germany.
How would a mother feel knowing her son’s job would be dropping bombs on her homeland, the place of her ancestors and likely still home to many relatives? How would she go to sleep every night and wake up every morning without thinking about this aspect of her life and her world, but mostly worrying about the life of her son whom she could not keep safe while he fought in this horrific war which ravaged her native land and people?
World War II was a very personal war to many, but not many were as personally immersed in it, or as deeply, as Gretrude Sproessig Henson.
As of 19 November 1943, while at Bombardier school in Victorville, William Alvin Henson II considered his permanent home address (the one to which he intended to return to upon relief from active duty) to be 172 Milstead Avenue, Conyers, Georgia.
However, less than a month later, on 15 December 1943, just eleven days after his Bombardier School graduation, Lt. William Alvin Henson II married Harriet Taylor Whisnant in Summerville, Chattooga County, Georgia.
Harriet was born in Summerville on 24 November 1923. She was the daughter of John Black Whisnant and Sarah Faye Taylor Whisnant. Harriet had an older brother named John Whisnant, Jr. Before marrying, Harriet attended Shorter College (now Shorter University) in Rome, Georgia.
Bill Henson’s sister, Jeanne Henson, attended Shorter College at the same time as Harriet. While Harriet was in the Junior class in the 1942 – 1943 school year, Jeanne was in the Sophomore class. It’s likely that Bill Henson met Harriet Whisnant through his sister Jeanne, as Harriet and Jeanne were schoolmates at Shorter.
According to the 1930 and 1940 Federal Censuses, the Whisnant family lived on Washington Street West next door to the Baker W. Farrar family. Baker Farrar was George Edwin Farrar’s uncle, his father’s (Carroll Johnson Farrar’s) older brother. Also living with the Baker Farrar family in 1940 was Pearl Farrar, Baker’s and Carroll’s older sister. (For context, George Edwin Farrar was my father, Carroll was my grandfather, and Baker was my great-uncle).
Although George Edwin Farrar and William Alvin Henson II were not assigned to the same air crew in the 384th Bomb Group, they were both assigned to the same Bomb Squadron, the 544th, and both served at Grafton Underwood at the same time.
Military Service/Combat Duty in World War II with the 384th Bomb Group
William Henson’s 384th Bomb Group Individual Sortie record indicates that his duty was Bombardier, one month’s pay was $247.50, and his home address was Mrs. W. A. Henson (his mother), 172 Milstead Avenue, Conyers, Georgia.
William Henson was credited with twenty-six missions with the 384th Bomb Group, ten as bombardier and sixteen as navigator. His first mission as bombardier was on 19 May 1944 and his last was on 21 June 1944. His first mission as navigator was on 20 July 1944 and his last was on 28 September 1944 as navigator on the Buslee crew’s B-17 on that date’s mid-air collision.
Morning Reports of the 384th Bombardment Group and other military documents indicate the following for William Alvin Henson II
- On 6 MAY 1944, 2nd Lt. William Alvin Henson II was assigned to the 544th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), per AAF Station 106 Special Orders #85 dated 6 May 1944 as Bombardier with the MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) of 1035 of the Gerald Sammons crew.
- On 21 JULY 1944, William Henson overslept and was late to his B-17 for the day’s mission. Taking off late, as crew navigator, he was unable to locate the formation and the crew had to return to base. He received punishment of having to fly one extra sortie (mission) to complete his tour.
- On 28 AUGUST 1944, William Henson was appointed 1st LT. per Eighth Army Air Forces Special Orders Number 233 date 28 August 1944.
- On 26 SEPTEMBER 1944, William Henson was ordered per Item #9 of Special Orders #190, AAF Station No. 106, APO 557, dated 26 September 1944 from duty to Moulsford Manor (a flak house/rest home), AAF Station 511, to arrive prior to 1800 hours on 28 September 1944, TD to carry out instructions of CG, period not to exceed seven (7) days. Will leave Rest Home on 5 October 1944 to return to proper Station.
- On 28 SEPTEMBER 1944, on Mission 201 to Magdeburg, Germany, Target of Industry, Steelworks, William Henson went from duty to MIA (Missing in Action). He was subsequently declared KIA (Killed in Action) on that date. The 28 September mission was the third time William Henson had flown with the Buslee crew. He had replaced Chester Rybarczyk as navigator just the day before on 27 September and a few weeks earlier on 3 September.
- On 11 OCTOBER 1944, 384th Bomb Group Commanding Officer, Colonel Dale O. Smith, recommended William Henson for the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC). (Alternately, his Individual Sortie Record notes the date recommended for the award as 4 October 1944).
Medals and Decorations
William Alvin Henson II was awarded the Air Medal with three Oak Leaf Clusters, the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC), and the Purple Heart.
He was awarded the Air Medal at the completion of 6th sortie (mission) – GO#98, Hq 1st BD, 6-14-44. He was awarded three oak leaf clusters for completion of (1) his 12th sortie – GO#234, Hq 1st BD, 8-11-44, (2) his 18th sortie – GO#318, Hq 1st BD, 9-9-44, and (3) his 24th sortie – GO#342 Hq 1st BD, 9-18-44.
Also, an unnamed/unnumbered military service form notes in the Awards & Decorations section,
Authorized Bronze Star to ETO Ribbon, Sec 1, Par 7b (1) WD Cir 195 1944. Auth 2nd Bronze star to ETO Ribbon per Ltr Hq ETOUSA, Sub: “Battle Participation Awards.” dtd 19 July 1944.
Bill Henson was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) for completion of his 25th Sortie (mission). Commanding Officer Colonel Dale O. Smith’s recommendation letter for William Alvin Henson II’s Distinguished Flying Cross stated,
1st Lt. William A. Henson, II has completed twenty-five operational bombing missions as Bombardier and Navigator over Germany and enemy occupied country between 19 May 1944 and 27 September 1944. Lt. Henson was lost in action over Magdeburg, Germany, 28 September 1944, on his twenty-sixth mission.
Many of these missions were among the longest and most viciously opposed dispatched by this organization during that period of time, among which were Berlin, Germany, 19 May and 21 June, Mannheim Germany, 27 May, Krzesinski, Poland, 29 May, Peenemunde, Germany, 4 August, Merseburg, Germany, 13 September and Magdeburg, Germany, 28 September 1944.
Lt. Henson entered this organization as a Bombardier but due to his exceptional intelligence and unusual ability was trained and checked out as a Lead Navigator and carried out his dual duties in a highly efficient manner. His initiative, determination and high degree of technical skill as both Bombardier and Navigator have contributed greatly to the successful conclusion of many of the missions on which he was dispatched. He has flown as Deputy Combat Wing Lead Navigator three times, Deputy Group Lead Navigator three times and Group Lead Navigator once.
Lt. Henson’s willing assumption of responsibility, his high degree of technical skill, his courage and coolness under conditions requiring initiative and determination to reach and bomb the designated enemy objective in spite of heavy opposition and unfavorable weather have set a high standard of achievement for this entire organization.
More about William Alvin “Bill” Henson II in my next post…
Previous post, Lt. William Henson Killed in Action
Previous post, A B-17 Navigator Oversleeps
William Henson’s Enlistment Record in the online National Archives (in the Reserve Corps records)
William Alvin Henson’s Personnel Record courtesy of the 384th Bomb Group
MOS means Military Occupational Specialty
Previous post, Assigned Military Occupational Specialties of the Buslee and Brodie Crews
Previous post, Timeline for Buslee Crewmembers and Substitutes, 544th Bomb Squadron
Previous post, Chester Anthony Rybarczyk, Update
William Alvin Henson’s Find a Grave memorial
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