In 1939, the German invasion of Poland marked the European entry into the Second World War as well as the end of adolescence for many American teenagers. Only a year later, Henry would graduate from Santa Ana High School in 1940 and begin his college career at Stanford University. Upon entry, he immediately enrolled in the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) at only 17 years of age. Henry would later reflect that joining the service was a natural decision for him and his contemporaries who felt it a matter of duty, entering with a sense of moral obligation. This same sense of allegiance would follow Henry throughout his life as a civic and philanthropic leader in his community and as one of America’s cultural pioneers.
During his collegiate tenure in the ROTC, Henry was trained specifically in Field Artillery which would later become his ground force division while in active duty. However, training on the Stanford campus proved dated in the eyes of many junior officers; Henry would later recount practicing his groundwork with antiquated World War I French 75 canons and equestrian units. Though any training would prove timely as the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 came in the same year as Henry’s enlistment in the Army; sophomore year would mark his formal entry into the Armed Services in 1942. The ROTC (unlike other divisions of the military at the time) held no requirements for recruits to receive their college degrees before entering active service. Thus, Henry entered active duty on his 20th birthday in 1943.
Henry was first sent to Fort MacArthur in Long Beach, California, followed by tenure at Fort Roberts in Paso Robles, California. While at Fort Roberts, he underwent a summer session of basic training, only to be sent back to Stanford for 90 days. He would later remark that this holding pattern reflected the military’s dilemma as to what it was going to do with such a young group of soldiers, mostly 18 or 19 years of age, during such a critical and unpredictable time. It was through the democratization of G.I. life, wherein everyone was an equal, that Henry would later reflect he gleaned his most principled values of hard work, perseverance and focus. Throughout his 10 year military career, Henry felt his greatest lesson was the truth that any whole is only as good as the sum of its parts. These principles would come into play later in his life as he exercised great diplomacy at the helm of his growing business empire in Orange County.
After basic training, Henry was next sent to Officer Training School in Fort Sill, Oklahoma, where he earned the rank of Corporal as well as the highest performance rating in his unit. Following a later stint in Fort Rucker, Alabama, the young lieutenant from Southern California recalled having difficulty adjusting to the culture of the ‘Deep South’. Part of his training down South also included briefly attending the Second Army’s mine school at Camp Forrest, Tennessee, where he became an instructor in aircraft recognition. Henry often told the story that he first learned the recognition lessons only one night before having to begin training newly enlisted soldiers the following day. While training troops at Fort Rucker, Henry received his overseas orders and would next be sent to the front lines in Europe. Departing from Boston, Massachusetts, with 7,000 other G.I.’s, Henry sailed on the British troopship Aquitania on an unescorted voyage to Glasgow, Scotland.