NY Times article
John P. Henebry, Innovative Combat Pilot, Dies at 89
Published: October 7, 2007
Maj. Gen. John P. Henebry, who played a leading role in the Army Air Forces’ innovative low-level bombing of Japanese ships in the South Pacific during World War II, died Sept. 30 in Evanston, Ill. General Henebry, who lived in Winnetka, Ill., was 89.
His death was announced by his family.
General Henebry flew 219 missions in World War II, mostly in the Solomon Islands chain while piloting the B-25 Mitchell bomber. He helped plan attacks utilizing “skip bombing,” a newly developed tactic.
These bomb runs were more accurate than attacks from high altitude, but they were harrowing and difficult affairs. The B-25s were reconfigured with eight machine guns for strafing and carried delayed-action bombs, which were dropped into the water as the pilots practically skimmed the waves. The bombs skipped along the sea for a few seconds, then slammed into the sides of enemy ships while the B-25s made their escape, barely clearing the ships’ masts, at times under a hail of enemy fire.
General Henebry’s decorations included the Distinguished Service Cross, the Army’s highest award for valor after the Medal of Honor. While based in New Guinea, he took part in two of the Fifth Air Force’s most notable missions.
On March 3, 1943, while serving as operations officer of the 90th Squadron, Third Attack Group, he attacked a damaged Japanese destroyer and two freighters in low-level runs during the Battle of the Bismarck Sea, in which land-based American aircraft devastated a large Japanese convoy heading to New Guinea.
On Nov. 2, 1943, having been promoted to operations officer of the Third Attack Group — known as the Grim Reapers — he helped plan and lead a major air attack on the Japanese stronghold of Rabaul on New Britain Island.
The raid proved costly to American forces — it was known as Bloody Tuesday — but it diverted the Japanese from reinforcing their troops on the island of Bougainville, which had been invaded by United States marines the previous day.
Flying a B-25 he named Notre Dame de Victoire — he was a graduate of the University of Notre Dame — General Henebry (his postwar rank) hit two Japanese freighters off Rabaul using the skip-bombing technique. But a Japanese cruiser and a fighter plane fired on his twin-engine bomber, damaging its rudder and knocking out the left engine. Flying on one engine, he was barely able to maintain adequate speed and altitude, then ditched off the tiny Allied-occupied island of Kiriwana in the Solomon Sea. A Navy PT boat plucked the B-25’s six crewmen from their life raft and brought them ashore.
“A bunch of lucky guys,” General Henebry recalled in a memoir, “The Grim Reapers: At Work in the Pacific Theater” (Pictorial Histories, 2002).
“We had flown more than 400 miles leading a major mission to hit the toughest target in the Pacific involving tons of enemy shipping,” he wrote, “personally sunk or damaged two enemy ships, got shot up by a cruiser, got jumped by a Japanese fighter plane, lost an engine which eventually caught fire, flew a crippled B-25 300 miles over water toward a blip of an island.”
John Philip Henebry, a native of Plainfield, Ill., became fascinated with flying when a World War I biplane landed in his town when he was 12 years old. After graduating from Notre Dame in 1940, he entered military service as an air cadet and flew on anti-submarine patrols before going overseas.
After World War II, he was promoted to brigadier general in the Air Force Reserve, then oversaw aerial supply operations in the Korean War. He retired from the reserve as a two-star general in 1976 and later operated a company in Chicago servicing private aviation.
General Henebry is survived by his sons John Jr., of Rancho Mirage, Calif., and Walter, of Evanston; his daughters Patricia Callahan of Winnetka, Mary Henebry of Chicago and Jeannine Rublee of Aptos, Calif.; five grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren. His wife, Mary, died in 2005.
On Sept. 2, 1945, he was aboard the battleship Missouri in Tokyo Bay when Gen. Douglas MacArthur accepted the Japanese surrender. “His final words were succinct, powerfully delivered, ringing out: These proceedings are closed,” General Henebry recalled in his memoir. “They soothed the emotions over lost friends who came out of this battle with only posthumous awards.”