Local man killed at Pearl Harbor 77 years ago

Contributed photo William Walter Henderson was a Newton native who lived in Marshalltown before moving to Bondurant.

As the nation honors those who perished Dec. 7 during Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, so too should local residents pause and reflect on the ultimate sacrifice made by the late William Walter Henderson.

He was 21, a seaman second class and bugler, who perished on the USS Arizona during the Japanese attack.

Henderson was a Newton native who lived in Marshalltown before moving to Bondurant. He enlisted Oct. 11, 1940, according to records obtained by local historian Jay Carollo.

Henderson was the first Marshalltown man killed in action in World War II. His mother, Mrs. John Fettkether of Marshalltown, was informed Dec. 21 her son was missing in action.

He was later declared dead.

Henderson was awarded the Purple Heart, and his name is listed on the Tablets of the Missing at the Honolulu Memorial. Henderson’s grave marker is in Newton’s Union Cemetery.

His remains are likely interred on the Arizona.

Now, 77 years later, the attack which propelled the United States from peace into war, and turned common men and women into warriors honors the fallen.

The sneak attack at Pearl Harbor commenced at sunrise, as flags were being raised and the National Anthem was being played. Two other men with Marshall County connections who witnessed the attack were the late John “Jack” Jones, a Marshalltown native who served on the USS Tennessee and the late Ed Welter, a former Iowa Veterans Home resident and Waterloo native.

Jones, then 17, had enlisted Jan. 2, 1941, with four other Marshalltown men.

The Tennessee was anchored near the Arizona, Jones said. He described his horrific experiences at Pearl Harbor in a Times-Republican interview six years ago. The Tennessee took three bomb hits, but escaped major damage. Jones and his fellow crewmen helped injured sailors on the ship, then worked to pull others out of the water.

“We were out in life rafts,” he said. “There was oil all around us, with smoke and fire. It was nasty, but we had a job to do.”

Welter, who enlisted in 1940, was on the Arizona and a seaman second class. While a resident of the Iowa Veterans Home years ago, Welter gave a detailed description of the attack.

“Japanese airplanes used special 18” projectiles … which had wings and flew straight after release resulting in incredible damage,” he said.

Welter was able to find his way to shore as the ship sank, using ropes and planks to get to safety.

“I saw the Arizona explode,” he said. “It was so powerful, it opened the ship up like a clam.”

There was another indelible image.

“A (Japanese) plane torpedoed something behind us,” Welter said. “If I knew the guy I could recognize him. I was that close.”

Welter was among the 223 crewmen who survived, some who were on shore.

“It was kind of a shock when the attack began,” Jones said. “It was on a Sunday, we were in a holiday routine.”

The 1,177 sailors who died on the USS Arizona represent the greatest loss of life on any U.S. warship in American history, according to U.S. Navy historian Bill Hendrix.

Jones served through the war in the Pacific and Atlantic theaters. He and Welter would go on to be part of the “greatest generation,” the moniker given to World War II-era adults by NBC-TV broadcaster Tom Brokaw in his noted book of the same name.

After the war, Jones reunited with his parents, who had moved to South Bend, Ind.

He was hired by the local Studebaker Co. and worked for the car manufacturer 10 years.

Jones returned to Marshalltown and began a 29-year career at the former Iowa Electric Light & Power’s power plant on East Main Street (now the closed Alliant Energy Sutherland Station).

As a retiree, he attended the 50th anniversary of the attack.

“It was an inspirational and moving experience … especially visiting the USS Arizona Memorial,” he said.

Jones, 89, died in State Center, January, 2013.

Welter served in the Navy until 1946. He returned to Waterloo and worked at the local John Deere Tractor Works for 36 years.

On the attack’s 70th anniversary, Dec. 7, 2011, Welter was honored with a special medal at IVH. Presenting the President’s award medal was the late World War II and Navy veteran Laurel Phipps of Marshalltown’s Veterans of Foreign Wars chapter. The medal was sent to the VFW by the USS Arizona Reunion Association.

Welter, 91, died in Iowa City February 2013.

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Contact Mike Donahey at

641-753-6611 or

mdonahey@timesrepublican.com