My father, Henry W. Broughton, was born on January 15, 1919, and died on September 28, 2008.
Henry was a teenager during the Great Depression, and lived to see the 2008 financial meltdown. There were a lot of things in between. He was born in Lightfoot, VA, spent part of his childhood in Eulonia, GA, and the rest in Norge, VA. He studied at the Newport News Apprentice School, was an engineer in Fredericksburg, VA and Front Royal, VA for much of his adult life, and had a second career as a real estate salesman in Front Royal. He and his wife of 61 years, Elizabeth, spent much of their retirement in Bremerton, WA.
There are a lot of stories that can be told about just about anyone who lived this long. I've chosen to relate here the role he played during World War II. Henry spent the war in the Merchant Marine. He never answered the question of how he ended up in the Merchant Marine instead of the Army or Navy, but he told me that Merchant Marines were more popular than Navy personnel because they had more money to spend. The ports he visited included Havana and Trieste. He got an extended stay in La Plata, Argentina, which he enjoyed talking about. His ship was there to pick up a load of fruit, but before the loading was complete, a festival started, and the local longshoremen refused to complete the loading until the festival was over.
It would be a huge mistake, however, to think that Merchant Marines were slackers. A famous Merchant Marine, Woody Guthrie, quit the Merchant Marines and joined the Army, because he concluded (and this was before D-Day) that being in the Army would improve his chances of surviving the war.
Henry's life-threatening experience was on the SS Henry Watterson, a Liberty ship, in 1943. The ship was carrying a load of ammunition. When it was in the Mediterranean, a pair of German fighter planes came around. The other ships in the convoy moved away from the Henry Watterson, leaving it alone and totally exposed. The German planes came so close that Henry could see the face of one of the pilots. Then, something happened for which no rational explanation exists, other than being low on fuel; the two German planes turned around and went away. If this incident had a slightly different outcome, I wouldn't be sitting here typing this.
We are all fortunate that Henry and the SS Henry Watterson completed this voyage, and Henry survived the war. He and Elizabeth got married. They made it possible for me to get a B.A. degree, and I’m very grateful for this. Henry and his father Henry Joseph gave me an early interest in music that has enriched my life. Henry gave me an appreciation of nature, the outdoors, and the importance of preserving our environment that has been a huge influence in my life. Those childhood trips to Virginia’s mountains, the beaches of the East Coast, and Canada’s maritime provinces gave me a lifelong interest in travel. Henry’s life set an example for everyone who had the good fortune to know him.
Click here for another story from me about Henry.
Click here for a story by John H. Broughton.
Henry W. Broughton photo gallery (the password is "hwb".)
Obituary in the Kitsap Sun