Dedication to duty: Decorated WWII veteran shares story of service, sacrifice, survival

Local News

Everyone has a story, but not everyone’s story is told.
Such is the case of Mr. Henry Mack– a 98-year-old war veteran.

Mr. Mack was 22 when he was drafted in the Army Air Corps–which later became the US Air Force.
He enlisted January 22, 1943, five years before President Truman’s Executive order desegregating the armed forces.

“They were just allowing blacks in the airforce and I went down to Avon Park Bombing Range,” Mack recalls, “That’s where I got my training and that’s where I got my change.”

He served in the Engineer’s Brigade as a Construction Foreman spending three years overseas in North Africa, Egypt, India, China and Burma.

“From the Burma Road to China. From the beginning to the end! I used to laugh. I’d say, ain’t nobody ever rode the hump and fly the hump, too! I used to fly over it in the plane, you know? And then we used to drive over.

“The hump was supposed to be the highest mountain. You know. But that’s where I ended up. In China. All the way. Three years. And when I came back, I was different. It made me. I wasn’t the same person. Lost two good friends. One of them got his arm cut off. I was a sergeant, you see. And I lost them of my platoon.”

The war took its toll in more ways than one.

“Used dynamite the whole time. I was blowing them rocks and opening up that road. I came back home. I was worse off than I was when I went overseas. I could’ve stayed overseas. I was getting along better. But, here I am! 98! Happy as a lark!”

His tour in the Asiatic Pacific earned him a number of decorations and citations including the Bronze Star and World War II Victory Medal.

He was honorably discharged in 1946. More than 40 years later, he received a citation from then Georgia Governor Joe Frank Harris who appointed him to the rank of Lt. Colonel.

After the war, Mack returned to Savannah, bought a house, and raised a family.

He even started his own business.

“I opened a cleaners on Montgomery Steet. Dry cleaners just before I moved out here.”

That venture was short-lived, so he decided to get his high school diploma and go to college — fulfilling the wish of his late mother.

“Ten years old, my mama died. And that took all the life out of me. Because that day, I had a good card. We used to get cards from the school to carry home to your parents. And my mother said she was going to make sure I go on to college. And she had a heart attack that same night and died. I was 10 and had nowhere to go.”

Mr. Mack has had his fair share of hardships, but he’s not one to linger on the past. In fact, if you ask him, he has no complaints.

“I had a good life. Never been rich but I never asked nobody for nothing. I always got out there and worked and got it. And I want to tell everybody–‘Never hurry and don’t worry.’ If you didn’t make it yesterday, let yesterday go. Try for tomorrow. Just don’t worry.”

“My motto for all of these children in the street– don’t care what they make– go get a job. Make something out of their life. Do what they want to do with their life– not what somebody else says. I know they make a lot of money with drugs and all this– but they’ll live better with just an ordinary life. Like I did. Ordinary.”

And ‘ordinary’ is OK by him.

Mr. Mack, we salute you. 

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