Graduating High School as a young man in the early 1940’s may come as a shock to the youth of the 21st century. While many today’s children push for an exceptional GPA and corresponding SAT scores, new adults had a choice of whether or not to join the war efforts. Henry Pennock was one of many tested to join the fight, but he failed an eye exam and was sent away. After a brief study session, however, Henry memorized the eye chart for his second attempt and was accepted into the training program, this time to become a paratrooper. At that age, it would be inspiring to hear a young man motivated to fight for his country out of a sense of pride and patriotism. Pennock, however, chose the paratroopers to get more attention from the ladies, with higher pay being a close 2nd place.
“Close to 8,000 guys were flying in my class,” Pennock tells John Kopp of the Philly Voice. “Only about 2,000 or 2,500 got their boots. Most of this wasn’t that they weren’t physically capable. It was mental.” Over 70 years after joining the service, Henry Pennock’s recollection of his time served is brilliant. It took him just four weeks of paratrooper training at Fort Benning, Georgia before being considered ready for combat. After just five jumps from an airplane, only one being at night, Pennock was assigned to the 101st Airborne division and on his way to Europe.
Pennock reached Bastogne, Belgium just in time to meet the German’s final push in the European Theatre during the Battle of the Bulge. Just two days after arriving, the Germans bombed the city forcing the 101st to retreat outside of the city’s outer limits. “Bastogne was so important because the Germans wanted to get to Antwerp,” Pennock said. “They had to go through Bastogne to cut off the Allied advance. Patton, with his tanks, was up in the Holland area yet.” With horrible winter conditions, reinforcements and medical supplies weren’t available making the fight against the Germans all but impossible. On December 27th of 1944, General George Patton’s Third Army helped to liberate the 101st Airborne after nearly 30 days of fighting. “Bastogne, it was unbelieveable. It was mayhem, with trees coming down. Everything under the sun was hitting you,” Pennock says. “It was a miracle that you could survive under so much firepower.” Pennock himself felt incredibly lucky to have survived having fought off frost-bitten limbs and several shrapnel wounds.
After recovering from his wounds in Chester, England, Pennock quickly returned to the 101st to assist in the liberation of the Kaufering concentration camp in April of 1945. Being the home of thousands of suffering prisoners, Henry remembers the difficulty in accepting what he’d seen. “It’s hard to imagine what you saw there. You’ve seen pictures of it. We weren’t allowed to give them anything. If you gave them a chocolate bar, it would kill them… They were so bad off. They needed medical attention. Even though you wanted to help them, you just felt so bad when you saw how they were mistreated.”
The following month, the German’s accounced their official surrender. Pennock’s fight continued as he forward deployed to the Paris to fight in the Pacific Theater. His final jump was made before the Japanese surrendered on September 2nd of 1945. To this day Pennock shows the scars of battle. While he has missing cartilage, an injured ankle, and marks from his close calls with frost-bite, Henry Pennock more than anything is proud of his service. At 92 years old, Henry Pennock of Bucks County Pennsylvania, was awarded three Purple Hearts and three Brone Star Medals. The United States flag flies high in front of Pennock’s home.
“My attitude now is, keep a strong military and it will keep us safer than anything else.”