Local hero, Medal of Honor winner, James P. Hendrix, dies at 77

Friday, November 22, 2002

James P. Hendrix, 77, of Davenport, Fla., formerly of Lepanto, died Thursday, November 14, 2002, of throat cancer.

Born in Lepanto, on Aug. 20, 1925, Hendrix was a Master Sergeant in the Army and a member of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society of America. He was a member of the American Legion Post No. 400, and a life member of the VFW Post No. 9853. He was a member of the Legion of Valor and the Dixie Chapter of the fourth Armored Division. He was a member of the Italian American War Veterans and Disabled American Veterans. He was a member of the AmVets and Veterans of Honor Aide-de-Camp, Honor Division.

Mr. Hendrix is survived by his wife, Helen Hendrix; four daughters, Jackie Dunnahoe of Winter Haven, Fla., Rosemarie Rogers of Haines City, Fla., Marilyn McGuah of Scottsboro, Ala., Virginia Selby of Lake Hamilton, Fla.; two sisters, Zora Flanery of Lake Alfred, Fla., Blanche Phillips of Lake Hamilton, Fla.; eight grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren.

Visitation was from 5 to 7 p.m. Sunday at Oak Ridge Funeral Care, 1001 Grace Ave., Haines City, Fla. Services were held at 10 a.m. Monday at the funeral home chapel. Burial followed at Florida National Cemetery, in Bushnell, Fla.

Hendrix's image is one of the first things visitors see when they drive into Lepanto. At the intersection of Greenwood and Broad, a 10-by-58 foot mural depicts his exploits in the Battle of the Bulge in World War II and President Truman awarding him the Medal of Honor. The mural was painted by Lepanto resident Dale Case in 1991.

Hendrix was born and raised on W.D. Holiman's land on the outside of the levee near Rivervale, due west of West Ridge. He was the oldest of 14 children. June Holiman, W.D. Holiman's daughter-in-law, remembered the Hendrix family as "hard working, decent, Christian people." Holiman said, "Jim hunted the floodways all the time, running up and down the levee. That was why he was such a great marksman. He was a kind, easy-going, humble person."

Owen Miller told the Tribune that he and Hendrix were old friends. "We went to school together in West Ridge, we both walked to school back then," said Owens. "We went into the service at the same time, he joined the Army and I joined the Navy." Up until about two years ago, Miller would drive Hendrix in the Terrapin Derby Parade.

Hendrix tried to visit Lepanto at least four or five times a year until he became ill in recent years, his wife, Helen, said. "He's been our own hero," said Dale Dunlap, Lepanto's mayor, who said he used to see the veteran while he would visit for Terrapin Derby. "You don't have very many congressional Medal of Honor winners in any town, so he was a big deal."

A humble hero, Hendrix said, "The real heroes are the ones who are still over there lying underneath the white crosses," in a 1999 interview with a Florida newspaper, The Ledger. "I had a job to do, and that's what I did."

Steve Jernigan told the Tribune, "Jimmy Hendrix told me that he did not get hurt, even a scratch, during the Battle of the Bulge. And later on a training exercise, he made a jump and his parachute didn't open. Even then, he only broke his leg. That was the most amazing thing to me."

Hendrix was one of two surviving World War II medal recipients with strong connections in the state, and there are only a handful of Medal of Honor recipients from Arkansas. In all, 25 Arkansans have received the medal for military service as far back as the Civil War, out of the 3,459 that have been awarded. The Medal of Honor is awarded for risk of life in combat beyond the call of duty.

He was drafted into the Army in 1943. Hendrix was a 19-year-old Army private in Company C, 53rd Armored Infantry Battalion, 4th Armored Division during the Battle of the Bulge. His actions of bravery and selflessness the day after Christmas in the harsh Belgian winter in 1944 led to his winning the medal.

Hendrix's citation for the Medal of Honor, given by President Harry S. Truman, read, "On the night of 26 December 1944, near Assenois, Belgium, he was with the leading element engaged in the final thrust to break through to the besieges garrison at Bastonge when halted by a fierce combination of artillery and small-arms fire.

"He dismounted from his halftrack and advanced against 88-mm. guns, and, by the ferocity of his rifle fire, compelled the guncrews to take cover and then to surrender. Later in the attack, he again left his vehicle, voluntarily, to aid two wounded soldiers, he held off the enemy by his own fire until the wounded men were evacuated.

"Private Hendrix again distinguished himself when he hastened to the aid of still another soldier who was trapped in a burning halftrack. Braving enemy sniper fire and exploding mines and ammunition in the vehicle, he extricated the wounded man and extinguished his flaming clothing, thereby saving the life of his fellow soldier.

"Private Hendrix, by his superb courage and heroism, exemplified the highest traditions of military service."

Years later, Hendrix distinguished himself during the Korean War by completing a parachute attack behind enemy lines.

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