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Henry Hendrickson was 18 years old in 1944 and a high school senior in White Sulphur Springs when he was drafted into the United States Army.

Then-President Franklin Roosevelt established a draft for World War II in 1940. Hendrickson wanted to graduate before service, he said, so he decided not to enlist at age 17. However, he knew being drafted was inevitable.

“Uncle Sam gave me a free tour of Europe,” Hendrickson said with a laugh, sitting in his one-bedroom apartment at Bozeman Lodge Senior Living.

The now 94-year-old said he decided about 20 years ago he should record what happened. He wrote an eight-page account of his time in the war in which he talks about training at Fort Polk in Louisiana, being watchful of booby traps his first day in France and capturing a German soldier.

“We got up and went out in the mud and played war every day,” Hendrickson wrote of training.

Simulations using explosions and machine guns were used to prepare soldiers for battle. Henrickson said he remembers crawling in the mud under barbed wire as shells flew over his head. It’s also where he learned to teletype messages, a skill he used when he got overseas.

Hendrickson landed in Europe after D-Day — the day allied forces stormed the beaches of Normandy, France and more than 9,000 soldiers died.

Thursday, June 6, marks the 75th anniversary of the battle.

More than 5,000 ships and 13,000 aircraft carried 160,000 troops across the English Channel to the continent under Nazi control, according to the U.S. Army. Aerial and naval bombings preceded an invasion by foot. It kick-started the Allied offensive in western Europe that eventually led to other major victories.

Seven months later, the Allies reached the Ardennes Forest in Belgium when German forces began a counter-offensive in December 1944, starting the Battle of the Bulge.

Hendrickson was there and described it in his written account:

“The Germans were trigger-happy, they had nothing to lose.”

Hendrickson served on the Signal Corps, which was responsible for facilitating communication for the 101st Airborne Division during the battle. He learned how to teletype, lay telephone lines and had to make trips behind enemy lines to fill a gas-powered radio relay station.

Hendrickson was awarded the Army’s Distinguished Service Medal for his efforts during the Battle of the Bulge.

The battle was over by the end of January, nearly seven months after D-Day. It sealed the fate of the Nazi forces, who used the last of their fuel to stage the attack. The Allies were able to claim victory over Germany five months later on May 8, 1945.

Hendrickson traveled through Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Italy as an Army private. He collected Swiss coins and watches, a German Mauser rifle and a jewelry box from Italy. All but the rifle are still kept in his apartment, including an old Army jacket and a special cigarette lighter.

After two years, three months and 27 days, Hendrickson’s Army service ended in 1946. He was stateside by his 21st birthday.

Hendrickson attended college for a few years at Montana State University, where he decided he wanted to learn how to dance. It was at dance lessons that Hendrickson met his future wife, Gene.

“I fell in love with her, but I never did learn how to dance,” he said.

The two were married for 65 years before Gene died in 2016.

Hendrickson put the skills he learned in the military to work throughout his career as a cable splicer for a telephone company. He moved all over the state with Mountain States Telephone and Telegraph Company, from Missoula to Sidney. He and Gene have one son and two granddaughters.

The couple took art classes at MSU and became avid artists in their spare time. Hendrickson’s Bozeman Lodge apartment walls are covered in their art that varies from watercolor to pencil sketches.

Hendrickson’s written account of his time in World War II is detailed and at some points lighthearted, but he said he left the most gory memories out.

“I tried to forget about (the war) for 50 years, I didn’t talk about it for a long time,” he said.

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