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|Official obituary for Josiah Henson, Olympic medalist and Hall of Fame Distinguished Member
Josiah “Joe" Henson was born 24 February 1922 in Bristow, Oklahoma to Stanley Willard Henson and Irene Hopkins Henson. He died 4 April 2012 following a stroke and heart attack in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Joe Henson was a long term resident of Arlington and Falls Church, Virginia, where he arrived on assignment for the U.S. Navy in 1963 and remained after retirement from successful careers in the Navy and business that took him around the world.
Joe became the third naval officer in his family when he received his appointment to the United States Naval Academy from Will Rogers, Congressman-at-Large for Oklahoma (not the noted humorist). He was graduated from the Academy on 7 June 1944 with the war-accelerated class of 1945 as a member of the 4th Company. After graduation and short aviation indoctrination at NAS Jacksonville, he reported for duty as a gunnery officer aboard the USS California in the 7th Fleet, Pacific. The California had been sunk at Pearl Harbor, but was raised and refurbished with the latest fire-control equipment for the 14-inch main guns and 5-inch Anti Aircraft batteries used for shore bombardment during the island hopping invasions. The first of these battles that Joe Henson participated in was Leyte Gulf, escorting MacArthur’s forces back to the Philippines, followed by the largest sea battle of all time at Surigao Strait. The California was one of the first ships ever attacked by Kamikaze suicide planes and was credited with sinking one Japanese cruiser.
Immediately following the declaration of peace in the Pacific, he was detached from sea duty to begin flight training at Corpus Christi and Pensacola. After earning his wings, he served in VP-40 in Panama, VU-10 in Guantanamo Bay and flew the first swept wing jet fighters aboard carriers with VF-74 (which later achieved international fame for successfully intercepting the terrorist hijackers of the Achille Lauro cruise ship). His last sea duty was as Commanding Officer of VS-31 at NAS Quonset Point and aboard the USS Wasp during EASTLANT and Caribbean cruises, including the Cuban Missile crisis and quarantine. He flew every major type of Navy plane in his career, which included over 300 carrier landings.
Advancing rapidly from Ensign in 1944 to Captain in 1965, he served in the Naval Air Training Command, Studied at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island and was a gunnery and aviation instructor at the U.S. Naval Academy. He was an alternate Navy member of the Regional Airspace Sub-Committee at Fort Worth and in Atlanta. He was the Navy’s aviation and missile officer with the Military Assistance Advisory Group operating out of the American Embassy in Paris France. He completed his career as Director of Officer Services and Records Division and finally Assistant Chief of Naval Personnel, where he oversaw the development of the Basic “Unit Plan” that modernized the Navy’s personnel record system.
While a midshipman, Joe was elected captain of the wrestling team by his peers (which he considered his greatest honor in sports). Both he and the Navy team were undefeated in collegiate wrestling. There were no NCAA championships due to World War II, but one of the most prominent wrestling historians declared the Navy teams of that era were the best in the country and probably would have won the NCAA Championships had they been held. During a normal tour of shore duty at the USNA from 1950 to 1952, he was an Instructor of Midshipmen in the Aviation Department and assistant wrestling coach, which enabled him train for and win the AAU National Freestyle Championships, where he was named Outstanding Wrestler after no opponent scored a point on him. He subsequently competed in the 1952 Helsinki Olympic Games and won a bronze medal for his country. He was the first American ever to beat a Soviet in the Olympic Games, an achievement of considerable note in the days of the Cold War. In 2006, he was installed as a Distinguished Member of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, joining his older brother and former Naval Academy Assistant Wrestling Coach Dr. Stanley W. Henson. He was elected to the EIWA Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2012 only weeks before his death.
Joe Henson’s sports career also included participation in every Olympic Games from 1952 to 2000 in various capacities, from being the first American referee to be Mat Chairman for a wrestling match in the Olympic Games to serving as Acting President of the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF). He served a four-year term as Chairman of the U.S. Olympic Wrestling Committee and later was elected National President of the Amateur Athletic Union of the United States (AAU), the oldest and largest sports organization in the world dedicated to amateur sports. He also served as Executive Director of the PEOPLE-TO-PEOPLE Sports Committee established by President Dwight Eisenhower and was Pitcher-Manager of the 15th Naval District softball team champions.
After retiring from the Navy, Joe founded the Henson Company, Virginia corporation and wholesale wrestling equipment dealer and manufacturer that he and a younger partner eventually grew into the largest wrestling equipment supplier in the world. The company created the BRUTE brand name and became both the design arm and exclusive distributor for ADIDAS wrestling equipment in North America for many years. He earned a masters degree in International Relations from George Washington University in 1967.
Captain Henson is survived by his beloved wife and high school sweetheart, the former Gloria Elaine Busby of Tulsa, Oklahoma, brother, Dr. Stanley W. Henson of Fort Collins Colorado, daughter Valerie H. Coleman of Houston Texas, Sons Geoffrey S. Henson of San Antonio, Texas and Josiah D. Henson II, of Washington D.C., as well as four grandchildren (including Kelly Henson Bullis, Matthew Henson, Jacob Purnell and Josiah Henson III, born in 2007). He has six great-grandchildren. He was predeceased by his brother Kenneth Wayne Henson and his sisters Vera Fern Tutt, Beulah Irene Farley and Peggy June Lawson.
Memorial Services will include a viewing and service in Tulsa on Saturday, 7 April 2012, after which his remains will be cremated. His ashes will be put to final rest on 14 May 2012 at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, near his closest friends and classmates. There will be a service prior to the ceremony at the Naval Academy Chapel where Joe and Gloria Henson were married 68 years ago on 9 June 1944.