FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. — Earl Henry Jr. never got to meet his father.
While serving on the USS Indianapolis during World War II, Earl Henry Sr. died when the Japanese torpedoed the ship, sinking it and killing 879 of the 1,196 on board.
The story of the sinking has been told many times since that fateful day in 1945. A memorial in Indianapolis honors the names of those lost, and a museum commemorating the ship opened up in 2007.
A few survivors even are still alive, including retired Marine Edgar Harrell of Clarksville, who has published books about surviving four days at sea.
Hundreds didn't return home, though, and that's one reason Earl Henry Jr. wants to tell his father's story.
On Nov. 18 at the Fisher House at Fort Campbell, Earl Henry Jr. donated a print of one of his father's paintings completed while on the USS Indianapolis. The original painting has survived to this day.
His dad's interest in painting wildlife started at a young age. As a young child, he loved to collect the trading-card-sized bird illustrations found in Arm & Hammer baking soda. That interest in birds led Earl Henry Sr. to take up taxidermy and later painting dozens of life-size birds.
The print of the painting donated features a bald eagle grasping a Japanese dragon with its talons. A U.S. flag waves in the background while a tattered Japanese Imperial Navy flag dangles from the dragon's tail.
"I think he was expressing the emotion of fighting in the Pacific," Earl Henry Jr. said about the painting.
Earl Henry Sr. painted the eagle on a piece of cardboard in August 1944, a year before the ship sunk.
The Henrys have worked to preserve the painting since then and in 1995 ordered about1,300 reprints of the "American Eagle In the Pacific," as they've called it. They have about 40 other original paintings of birds from Earl Henry Sr. in their home.
During lunch on Nov. 17, Earl Henry Jr. told the crowd at the Fisher House everything he knew about his father, most of which he's learned through letters and other people who knew his father from his time as a dentist in Knoxville.
His dad's personality really showed through the letters he wrote his mom, Earl Henry Jr. said. In fact, his son said he's still learning new things about his father.
"I would think, 'You know, I bet I never learn anything new about my father,'" Earl Henry Jr. said. "What I have learned in the last 10 years is just incredible. Now I keep expecting to learn more. I am amazed."
The idea to give the painting to the Fisher House came as part of the Hillwood Garden Club's effort to make a donation to the house. When a member learned of the prints, she said they wanted to figure out a way to donate one.
Wendy Carlston, manager for the Fisher house, said she was honored to get the painting. She plans to place it next to the other eagle they have hanging in the hallway.
"I thought, 'Why not?'" Carlston said recently. "It was a perfect time, what with Veterans Day last week."
Given the 101st Airborne Division is also known as the Screaming Eagles, she found it fitting.
While the painting exudes some of the emotion and anger soldiers probably felt during WWII in the Pacific, Earl Henry Jr. and his wife said they've reconciled with the Japanese involved. They even met a few years ago the granddaughter of the submarine captain who sunk the USS Indianapolis.
Earl Henry Jr. has saved dozens of mementos from his father, even a note Earl Henry Sr. wrote to his unborn son while on the USS Indianapolis.
"To Earl Jr.," the note reads. "If I make as good a dad as your mother does a mother, son, you'll be OK. Love, Earl."
After reading the note to the audience, Earl Henry Jr. became a little emotional. He said it's a combination of joy and sadness, but most importantly, he remembers.
"I feel like I know my father now," he said.
Information from: The Leaf-Chronicle, http://www.theleafchronicle.com