An Interview with Henry Bodden

28 Oct

 Please welcome Henry Bodden, a man who spent his life photographing and documenting the deeds of valor our veterans performed during World War II. Henry seems a quiet and reserve man, but then we can learn volumes from his writing journey.

Henry, before we discuss In The Footsteps of Valor, tell us a little about your personal life.

Thank you Bill for this opportunity.  From an early age, I have always been interested in history and geography, via movies and books.  I moved to Dallas in June of 1963, and married in October of 1963.  On Nov. 22, 1963, I had a “Forrest Gump” moment when I witnessed the JFK motorcade whiz by just seconds after the fatal shot, with SS agent Clint Hill hanging onto  the trunk of the limo hovering over Jackie Kennedy and a mortally wounded JFK.  I will never forget that sight.  I took a Polaroid photo of Oswald’s rooming house in “63, which was two blocks from our apt. in Oak Cliff.  This b&w photo became my first of 700 photos used in my book, placed in the JFK section some 48 years later. In 1979, I asked my boss for an $8 a week raise to pay some extra bills, offering to do extra work and was refused.  At that moment I determined to work for myself in the future, not to be at the mercy of others, which I did a year later.  In 1991, our family moved to the Cayman Islands and began building a three phase shopping center over the next 8 years, which today is still my “daytime” job which is renting out commercial shops.

What prompted you to take the seventeen year journey you reveal in the book?

In 1994, we visited our son in Germany, who then showed me his scrapbook of “then & now” WWII photos he had compiled.  He took us to Nuremberg to stand in the same podium where Hitler used to stand in at Zeppelin field in front of 200,000 Nazis.  Then to Hitler’s “Eagle Nest” in Bergestgaden for more photos.  It rekindled my interest in WWII and I was hooked.  I was so moved by the opening and closing scenes of “Saving Private Ryan” at the American Cemetery at Omaha Beach that I flew to Paris and drove to Normandy to photograph D-Day sites.  On another trip, my son and I retraced the entire Battle of Bulge throughout Belgium & Luxembourg, and onto the Colmar Pocket in the Vosges of NE France.  On yet another trip, we covered Berlin, Remagen Bridge on the Rhine, and again to France to find the exact site in Holtzwihr where Audie Murphy alone held off 6 Tiger tanks and 250 infantrymen for an hour atop a burning tank destroyer.  Now that I was compiling a scrapbook, I wanted to visit some sites in the Pacific.  I took a tour to the Philippines with five veterans of the Bataan Death March and Corregidor which really changed my perspective of what these veterans endured.  I had at this point become passionate about revisiting WWII sites, and my scrapbook was bulging with material.  In March of 2010, I took the ultimate WWII trip – IWO JIMA. My wife and I spent a week in Hawaii researching and photographing where it all began.  It was at this point that I began to realize I need to graduate from an elaborate scrapbook to a book.  From Hawaii, I went to Guam and then for a full day on Iwo Jima with 35 veterans who fought on Iwo.  Iwo Jima is sacred ground to the Marines and the Japanese, as there are still about 12-15,000 Japanese entombed in the caves, and about 200 Americans somewhere on the island.  The Japanese only allow one trip per year, for one day for Americans to visit.  After returning home, I assembled all my photos in chronological order and began writing and researching the narrative for the next 18 months. I had met Hugh Ambrose, author of “The Pacific” and the HBO miniseries of the Marines in the Pacific. He told me that his father, the late Stephen Ambrose who authored “Band of Brothers” said “if you write about history, you must first walk the ground.”  Confident that I had done just that, I wrote my book in a diary fashion.

You write and present the book as a military travelogue with photos, trivia, and history. How many interviews with veterans did you do during you adventure?

I made five trips to Europe with no contact with any veterans, as my focus was more as a “tourist” and not a potential writer.  However, after my trip to Omaha Beach, I asked and was permitted to attend two Iwo Jima reunions in New Orleans and Lafayette, La. with those who fought on Iwo.  I was shown Jack Lucas, the youngest Medal of Honor recipient of WWII, but I felt a little out of place and did not approach him.  He was one of the 27 MOH recipients on Iwo.  Thereafter, I began seeking out and touring with veterans and chronicling their stories.  I drove to Kansas to meet a Navajo “code talker” in the Pacific.  I met Paul Tibbets, pilot of the Enola Gay and Hiroshima fame, and recently his navigator Dutch Van Kirk.  Also, R.V.Burgin featured in “The Pacific” miniseries.  At the opening of the Pacific wing of the D-Day museum in New Orleans, I was around Stephen Ambrose, Tom Hanks, and President Bush the elder, the youngest Naval aviator of WWII; a Marine on Saipan trying to stop the locals jumping to their death off the cliffs; two Pearl Harbor survivors in Hawaii; one of “Merrill’s Marauders” in the China-Burma theater; some Filipino guerillas on Corregidor, and the list goes on.

Describe some of the most moving places and people you met in your travels.

Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would walk on the black sands of Iwo Jima, or stand on the summit of Mt. Suribachi at the spot where five Marines and one Navy corpsman planted our flag which was immortalized in a split second snapshot by Joe Rosenthal, and then walk down the Suribachi.  Nor did I ever think I would trek to Holtzwihr, France and stand on that little narrow road where Audie Murphy made his “one man stand” and his grave at Arlington which is the second most visited gravesite next to the Kennedy graves. A few other places were driving the 65 mile Bataan Death March route.  The American cemetery at Omaha Beach is quite moving where 10,000 lay dead breaching Hitler’s fortress Europe.  Standing at Teddy Roosevelt Jr.’s grave and two of the Niland brother’s grave, the real basis for “Saving Private Ryan” at Normandy.  And of course, the Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor and Ernie Pyle’s grave at “Punchbowl” Cemetery in Hawaii.  George Patton’s grave in Luxembourg.  Standing on the dock on Corregidor where Gen. MacArthur was whisked away by PT boats and onto Australia to escape capture by the invading Japanese.

Some of the memorable veterans I have met and communicated with are Capt. Bob Prince of the Rangers who planned and led “The Great Raid” at Cabanatuan in the Philippines.  His Rangers raided a death camp and rescued all 502 American POWs due to executed the next day, which was the basis for the “Ghost Soldiers” book and movie.  One man on our tour talked extensively about his 62 days in the hold of “hellship” with 700 POW’s en route to Japan.  His account of men suffocating and going berserk in the dark with little ventilation and dying POW’s around him was horrifying.  He weighed 60 pounds when liberated.  US Senator Daniel I’nouye of Hawaii, the Japanese-American who witnessed Pearl Harbor and went on to fame as a member of the 442nd Japanese-American outfit and lost his right arm while earning the MOH in Italy.  I have a letter from him on his Senate letterhead in appreciation for having his story in my book.  I have visited Nadine Murphy in her Farmersville, Texas home about her memories of her brother Audie Murphy.  On our Iwo Jima tour, Cy O’Brien was with us.  He was a combat correspondent on Iwo and was with Rosenthal, Lou Lowery who photographed the first flag raising, and William Genaust who recorded the video of the flag-raisings.  He was killed several days later and is still entombed in one of the many caves.  One of the few Japanese survivors on Iwo (only about 200 of 22,000) was with us and he and the grandson of the Japanese commander – Gen. Kuribayshi – signed my poster in Japanese and English.  I met and was photographed with Marine Corps Commandant James Conway on Iwo also. I met and have Eva Untermann of Tulsa in my book.  Eva and three other Tulsa area people were survivors of Auschwitz as children – about 12 years old.  They regularly tell their stories about the horrors of Auschwitz and surviving Dr. Mengele’s fascination of human experiments on children.  Having visited the crematorium at Flossenberg in Germany, and the Yad Vashem holocaust museum in Jerusalem, I can more appreciate their sacrifice.  I have a framed real “Jude” armband signed by them in my office.  There are so many more, you have to read the book and view the photos.

Henry, I have to admire your journey and the commitment you made. What plans do you have for future projects?

This is a one-time book with no shelf life, written as a tribute to “the greatest generation.”  I don’t really consider myself a writer in the strictest literary sense.  It is more a vehicle for me to take on the road and keep their memory alive through speaking engagements and book signings as they are leaving us. However, I just led a tour to Normandy and Paris and took a slew of more photos and more veterans – some British glider pilots who took The Pegasus Bridge and Americans who were at Sainte-mere-Eglise in the predawn hours of the invasion; finding the actual spot where Rommel was attacked by Allied aircraft which ended the war for him.  I also found and toured his hq in La Roche Guyen on the Seine, so I hope to update my book in the next printing.  When I went to Paris, my book afforded me to meet the manager of the Hotel Meurice, the headquarters of the Nazi high command, the managers at Napoleon’s tomb and the Paris Opera House which Hitler visited on his tour, the manager of the Hotel Scribe bar which was famous for hosting Hemmingway, Pyle, Robert Capa, William Shirer, Cronkite, Murrow, Andy Rooney and Josephine Baker during the liberation of Paris.  This bar also was the debut of the cinema by the Lumiere brothers of Paris.  I also met the manager of the Trianon Hotel in Versailles where Eisenhower was headquartered.

I imagine Veteran’s Organizations and families of World War II veterans are your main market. What avenues are you using to publicize your book?

I have my book on, and through my website   But I try to attend as many military and veteran events to market the book.  I also do gun shows and craft shows, and am putting together a weekly program to submit to newspapers like a “Believe it or not” syndicated piece.

For me, keeping the sacrifice “The Greatest Generation” made in front of the public is paramount. What would you say to the under forty population to impress upon them the untold sacrifice of those who kept our country free?

In Ken Burns book and documentary “The War” he says WWII was the single most important event in the history of mankind.  This is because it claimed 50-70 million lives, mostly civilian, and touched almost every country on earth.  Major cities were leveled causing untold suffering to those citizens.  Today our freedom is taken for granted, and yet we face instant world annihilation by superpowers with nuclear bombs that are fifty times more destructive than Hiroshima, not to mention these weapons falling into terrorist hands who are not concerned with “mutual destruction.”  The destruction is beyond comprehension to most people, and to those of us who lived through the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, we are just recently finding out how close we really were to a nuclear war.  We were at Defcon 2 alert.  I meet with about 15-20 WWII veterans in Tulsa each Thursday from all theaters of the war.  One was circling over Siberia in a B-17 with two hydrogen bombs, just awaiting orders to begin WWIII.  This is why we cannot forget WWII and how close we were to being conquered if the Axis had gotten the bomb first.  Sad to say, the younger generation for the most part know very little about our history or appreciate all the blood shed on Iwo Jima, Normandy, and The Battle of the Bulge, and on and on.  The Tulsa WWII vets have visited for the last fifteen years our schools regularly telling their story to great interest.  I have gone with them and will continue to using my book to keep their memory alive.  “Let time not dim their sacrifice.”

Thank you, Henry, for sharing your amazing story with us.

Thank you again Bill, and I know it was a long response, but it is something I am very passionate about it.  You are doing a great job promoting our fellow Lexiconians.

To purchase Henry’s book, click on this link:

To purchase my novels, click this link.

1 Comment

Posted by on October 28, 2012 in Uncategorized


One response to “An Interview with Henry Bodden

  1. John Biggs

    October 28, 2012 at 6:21 pm

    Henry, since history never stops moving forward, you should never stop writing and taking photographs. Great interview


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