Shop Mobile More Submit  Join Login


Submitted on
September 4, 2005
Image Size
236 KB


8 (who?)
Boy What a Life by yankeedog Boy What a Life by yankeedog
As a kid, Tommy Henderson was nearly killed when he was hit by a car. He had to endure wearing a full body cast, but he grew up strong and tough. He was a street wise Pittsburgh kid, the type of kid who would always get by, he was smarter than average, some would say brilliant and wise way beyond his years. The artist and educator Joe Fitzpatrick who also taught Andy Warhol, once told me that Tommy Henderson was the most talented and creative student he ever taught.

When WWII broke out and his older brother joined the U.S. Army Air Corps, Tommy lied about his age and joined the United States Navy at age 17. He did his basic training up on the Great Lakes and was eventually assigned to DE-700, the USS Currier, a Destroyer Escort with a Hunter Killer Group that hunted the North Atlantic for German U-Boats. The Currier was based at Oran in North Africa. Africa and especially Egypt would captivate his imagination the rest of his life. With the Currier, he participated in the amphibious invasion of Southern France, that allowed him to wear the Navy's Amphibious Assault Patch. His restless nature not only provided him with incredible adventures, but also got him in a lot of trouble, but as I mentioned, he was street wise and very often smarter than the officers and NCO's he served under. Eventually he became bored with life on the Currier in North Africa, figured out a way to trade places with another sailor who was going to be shipping out to that Pacific as the war in Europe ended. In the Pacific, he served on LST 598 and participated in the island hopping campaign as US troops fought for bloody island after bloody island, driving the Japanese back. Throughout this great adventure, he documented it all with film, developing his own photos under the crudest of conditions. As a kid, his photos and stories amazed me. I have a few precious photos of Nose Art that he shot on Okinawa of B-24 Liberators and P-38 Lightenings. When his tour of duty was done with the Navy, he joined the Army, but ended up stateside and that just didn't fit his restless nature, he finished his tour with the Army and moved on.

As a civilian he found work with the Boilermakers of America and became a living legend among some of the bravest and hardest working men in the world. They worked the high iron building steel mills, blast furnaces and power plants all around the Northeast and Mid-West during the post war building boom. Years of hard work and respect eventually had him heading up his own crew. Working with Tommy Henderson got you instant respect with all the other boilermakers, that is if you were a hard worker, there was no room for slouches and loafers on his crew. Being his relative, also got you instant respect too. I remember the the countless hardy handshakes from powerful calloused hands of workers who knew or worked with him. You could feel the respect and camaraderie that only soldiers and hard workers have for each other.

As a boilermaker he came in contact with a building material that would eventually take his life, but not without a long and painful fight. Since the 1930's the danger of this product well was known, but conveniently ignored because of it's importance to industry. This product was never treated as the hazardous material it was. Under some circumstances it could be installed and used safely, but for the aggressive hard working boilermakers, there was no time for the proper handling of this product when the job had to be done on time. Besides, how could a product that was so important and so prevalent in the industry, be hazardous to your health? Or so they were led to believe, but while they were working the tiny fibers of this product were embedding themselves into the walls of their lungs. Asbestos was like a ticking time bomb.

I remember his last days and I remember talking to him and enjoying his stories and tales, looking at the photos and reading the hand written captions. I remember the pride of being his nephew and I remember his pride of being my uncle. One thing I'll never forget was his dignity, not long before he died after he had suffered so much, he told me he had lived an exciting life and had no complaints. All I can say to that is "Boy! What a Life!". I love you and miss you uncle Tommy!

This illustration is based on an old B&W photo of my uncle Thomas C. Henderson, taken while on leave in New York City.

Adobe Illustrator 8.0, Apple Macintosh G4 Power Mac, OS 9.2.
Add a Comment:
BoundBlackGirlLover Featured By Owner Feb 2, 2013
SORRY~"TIMES" (with an "S") named after the New York TIMES newspaper!
yankeedog Featured By Owner Feb 6, 2013  Professional General Artist
Thanks! I questioned that as well, but that's what was on the photo. Apparently there was a photo studio in Times Square that made these photos for soldiers and sailors. Everything in the original photo was a prop, the backdrop was hand painted, all the bottles were empty props and the hand painted panel in front with 'Time Square, New York' were all part of a photo studio set, typo and all. :-)
rr983 Featured By Owner Oct 23, 2007
My father-in-law told his story about being shore patrol in New York City Times Square once when in port. He was 17 years old at the time.
yankeedog Featured By Owner Oct 23, 2007  Professional General Artist
It's amazing when I think about where I was at when I was 17 and where my uncle had been by that age. They truly were the greatest generation.
rr983 Featured By Owner Oct 24, 2007
They grew up fast. He had the experience of seeing the results of an enemy submarine his ship sunk and only told the story to his kids once.

I had a pleasant surprise while visiting the Naval Academy museum a few years back and finally being able to gather more info about that submarine they sunk as I read the placard accompanying a model display of the USS Bogue carrier battle group. It was interesting to read because he could not recall the specifics I wanted relating to their location, ships they sailed with and what model of sub they sank, so after reading the placard, I had the information that I'd long wondered about and was able to point it out to his daughter.
yankeedog Featured By Owner Oct 24, 2007  Professional General Artist
That's really cool! We should never forget what they did.
visua Featured By Owner Sep 21, 2005
Heh, an image of a drunken Sailor, an image the Navy has been striving to get away from.
Im a Sailor myself, and I DO like this artwork, I just wish he wasnt holding a brew.
Some issues with the work though, the neckerchief is a little too visible. It needs to be under the jumpers flap, and not above it.
The neckerchief is also black.
And he also has FAR too much hair on his head! :P
Great work. :+fav:
yankeedog Featured By Owner Sep 21, 2005  Professional General Artist
Thanks! This was based on an actual B&W photo of my uncle when he was in the Navy and on leave in NYC during WWII. The photo was all props taken in a photography studio, all the bottles were empty and the one's in the background were a painted backdrop. I have one of my dad during the Korean War in a jail cell holding a bottle. :-) The funny thing is that my uncle wasn't a drinker, didn't have tattoos or fit any of the sailor stereotypes we've come to know. He was however a bit of a fighter though. a real tough guy. Hey, thanks too for the tip about the neckerchief, I'll fix that!
ahmednayyer Featured By Owner Sep 6, 2005  Professional General Artist
"he told me he had lived an exciting life and had no complaints" your uncle's memorable words to you really touched my heart!

If I ever went to america in my life, I would not come back untill I have met with you!

My Respects
Ahmed Nayyer
yankeedog Featured By Owner Mar 30, 2007  Professional General Artist
Thanks Ahmed! Sorry for the late reply, your comment got buried by newer comments.

My uncle Tommy was a cool guy, he was a great adventurer, from his service in WWII with the US Navy to his travels later in life, he was always on the move. Unlike me, he loved to travel and thought nothing about jumping on a plane traveling around the world. He visited Egypt many times and traveled all over Europe and the Middle East and Asia.

I would feel bad if you came over for a visit to America and you didn't stop in Pittsburgh to meet me, but I would understand, America is a big country. It's really hard to comprehend just how big it is unless you fly across it. Living in Pittsburgh all my life, I never really got to see much of the country, but one summer many years ago, my wife and I flew out to California to visit a friend of ours who was living in Modesto and I really got an appreciation of just how big it reallly is. More recently we drove to Kansas City, which is about half way across the country, it took around 17 hours to drive! It's big. :-) If you ever get to visit here, I'll be happy to meet you and show you around Pittsburgh!
Add a Comment: