Tom Henderson, who turned 100 on Friday, April 24, doesn’t take his century of life for granted.
“I used to use the past tense when I would say, ‘I have been blessed,’” he said. “I have changed that to ‘I am being blessed.”
As he peered out of his small patio in the Smoky Springs retirement community on Friday, a chorus of “Happy Birthday,” rang out from gathered members of Northlake Baptist Church. The group — many of which have attended church with Henderson for over three decades — followed the familiar tune with the 100-year-old’s favorite hymn, “Victory in Jesus.”
“He’s an important person in our community to so many people at the church,” Letsa Parker said. “He’s a World War II veteran. The stories that he has told, they’re just incredible.”
Henderson was in the Army Air Corps, now called the Air Force, from 1942-1945. He served under Gen. George S. Patton after the Normandy landings and during the Battle of the Bulge. Even before WWII, he personally knew Patton, who was the commanding officer at Fort Benning when Henderson worked for the Army Corps of Engineers.
“The greatest privilege and honor of my life was to have the privilege of serving my country,” Henderson said, emotion in his voice.
Danny Jones, pastor of Northlake First Baptist, said after D-Day, Henderson served out of a flight hangar in France. When bombers’ planes were hit or damaged, he would repair them.
“He has lived a very interesting life,” Jones said. “He was raised in the Great Depression up here in the Banks County area. He’s always been a very positive person, and he’s just a great Christian man.”
A wide grin spread on Henderson’s face as many of his favorite people honored him on Friday. Although it was his 100th birthday, he said he couldn’t help but feel surprised at the large display of love.
“The only bad thing about it is that I recognized it too late,” Henderson said. “I should’ve recognized it a long time ago how loving they are, and how they really felt.”
Henderson said he owes his longevity to his family’s genetics and God.
After his death, the 100-year-old doesn’t want flowers at his burial, nor an open casket funeral.
“If you have a flower, give it to me now,” he said. “I want people to remember me as I was. I want them to remember that I loved them and smiled, and tried to be pleasant.”