Henny Hemphill lived more than 55 years in a house he built in Northfield, a town with two patriotic parades every year - Memorial Day and July Fourth.

He marched in the parades for decades with other veterans from Northfield's American Legion and Fleet Reserve posts, and he would have marched this year if he could have. But his funeral was last month. He was 91 when he died, a few days after his last Memorial Day.

Hemphill, whose real first name was Henderson, was a World War II veteran who almost didn't make it to age 24, let alone 91.

He was on the USS Pringle, a destroyer that was in the South China Sea on April 16, 1945, when a Japanese kamikaze plane flew into the ship. It blew up, and 96 Americans were killed. Hemphill was burned, but he was one of 258 survivors of a day that would change his life.

"I can't tell you how many times I stood in his house with his model of the ship he made himself," said Art Faden, who grew up as Hemphill's Northfield neighbor.

"He would point out where he was when the ... kamikaze came in. He was standing not far away when it hit, and he didn't remember anything after except waking up in the water. Then he had to tread water for hours ... before he was rescued," Faden said.

As a kid, Faden and his friends would stop to talk to Henny and his wife, Ella, "for hours," said Faden, who recently retired as a Northfield police captain. "He'd talk to us about baseball, about his military service, about whatever. ... It didn't matter if you were 8 or 80, he could talk to you - and he wanted to talk to you."

After he was blown off the Pringle, the Navy sent Hemphill to Seattle.

"He called my mom back in New Jersey," said Ann DePersenaire, of Egg Harbor Township, "and asked her to come out to Seattle to get married. She, her sister and her mother traveled across country by train for the wedding."

Ella and Henny met at the old Holy Spirit High School in Atlantic City. The two stayed in Seattle until the war ended, then took the train home. Henny grew up in Egg Harbor City, where his family owned a brewery, his daughter said. Henny and Ella also had a son, Richard. Ella died in 1998.

Henny became an expert metalworker in the Navy and spent most of his career with the Federal Aviation Administration in Egg Harbor Township. Part of his job was making experimental aircraft models, but he made his Pringle model on his own.

In the 1980s, his fellow survivors started organizing reunions. Henny went to one each year for more than 20 years.

He traveled across the country for the Pringle reunions, often with his daughter, but the last one was in 2005 - because so many of the veterans had died. Now, one more is gone.

Contact Martin DeAngelis:

609-272-7237