Dedications - Tributes


A Tribute to Henry - By Joe B. Wilkinson

Henry S. Rudolph, 1923 - 2009. He is now with Sis who died on the morning of September 3, 2008.

He is also with his fellow 9th Air Force veterans who went on before him. He was credited with six enemy aircraft destroyed and was awarded the Silver Star and Distinguished Flying Cross among many other decorations for his service in the ETO in WWII.

Hank shot down five FW 190s in the air and one ME 163 on the ground but he never claimed the ME 163 or two other kills that were probably his because as he once said to me he was only doing his job and he was already an Ace and he was so very proud of being part of the first P-51 Mustang group. What more could a person want he would say.

Henry Smith Bachelor was named after his two grandfathers, Henry Bachelor and Lamar Smith (Elmore County Probate Judge). His father Clyde Bachelor died in 1927 after Hank was born in Alabama in 1923.

His mother Elizabeth Smith Bachelor later remarried a West Pointer by the name of James Miller Rudolph and he adopted Hank. His stepfather was a Major and Superintendent of Roosevelt Military Academy in Aledo, Illinois. Hank basically grew up as a cadet throughout his youth and excelled in all sports. After Roosevelt Military Academy Hank would go on to the University of Iowa on a football scholarship and remained an athlete the rest of is life. (He was even featured in Sports Illustrated as an archer in his 70s!).

A freak accident at his fraternity house in 1943 left him with a gash in his left arm that would not heal. Hank learned that the school doctors planned to amputate his arm so he called his mother who promptly came and took him to see other doctors who healed him. He then joined the Army Air Corps where he excelled in cadet and flight training and went on to the 9th Air Force and the 354th Fighter Group. He led the last fighter mission in Europe in WWII.

Last Fighter Mission flown in the ETO - Front row left to right: 2nd Lt. Willie K. Johnson (Guntersville, Ala), 2nd Lt. Donald M. Cohen (New Britain, Conn), Flight Officer Robert T. Mankey (Buffalo, NY), Flight Officer William J. Matthews (Rachel, W. Va.), 2nd Lt. Norman R. Reinecke (Severn, MD), 2nd Lt. Robert H. Jones (Mendon, Mich.), Sgt Raymond Touchstone (Broken Bow, Okla.). On the wing left to right: 1st Lt. Harry A. White (Columbia, S. Co.), 1st Lt. Henry S. Rudolph (Valley Forge, Penn.), and 1st Lt. John J. Hangen (Dayton, Ohio).

At the end of WWII, he joined his mother and stepfather in Pennsylvania where his stepfather was in charge of Valley Forge Military Academy. Hank graduated from Temple University and married a local gal named Muriel (Sis) and then joined SCOTT Paper. He spent the next 40 years with SCOTT.

I was very fortunate that Hank was willing to share with me his firsthand accounts of being a WW II fighter pilot along with access to his log books and photo albums. Thanks to LTCOL Ken Tilley those items are now part of the records at Maxwell Air Force Base and the USAF History Center.

Two years ago I came across a DVD of the 354th Fighter Group that included every film or newsreel made about the unit from 1942-1945. It included the film of Hank leading the last combat mission of WWII. It even showed him being greeted by his crew chief as he exited his P-51 at the end of the mission and the end of WWII in May of 1945.

One of the greatest joys of my life was being able to show that DVD to Hank and Sis. Sis did not meet Hank until the fall of 1945 so it was really the first time she had ever seen him in uniform. She did not realize it was Hank until he took off his helmet and she saw that big lock of black hair and she said, "Now, that's the Hank I remember!".

We watched that scene from the DVD on the TV in their kitchen another dozen times that afternoon. I kept replaying it for them as they requested. Over and over again and who could blame an 84 year old who was seeing himself as he really was 60 plus years before or an 81 year old lady seeing the man who became the love of her life just before she met him.

The first time I watched the TV screen with them. The next 11 times, I only watched Hank and Sis as they looked at that screen showing a 21 year old Army Air Force hero who put the war behind him and went on to become a husband, father and grandfather and a dear friend to many of us.

Sharing that day and that DVD with Hank and Sis has to be one of the greatest joys of my life.

The Greatest Generation has lost another member but he leaves with no regrets and with a great legacy.

Bye, Hank.