John J. "Jack" McHenry Sr., 98, Newtown Square real-estate firm owner

Posted: October 16, 2013

WHEN JACK McHenry shipped out with the first Marine Division for combat in the South Pacific in World War II in 1942, he promised his bride he would return when the war was over.

He kept his promise, returning on VJ Day, Aug. 16, 1945, the day Japan surrendered. He left behind a history of some of the most critical battles of the South Pacific war - Guadalcanal, Cape Gloucester, Peleliu, Okinawa - names that resonate in Marine Corps legend with blood and glory.

Jack participated in each of these island invasions. He came home with a severe case of malaria, and terrible memories, like the time a blast killed his best friend next to him.

He was haunted by the question of why the blast didn't kill him, too.

But Jack returned to his home in Newtown Square to go on with his life, as a husband and father, a successful businessman, a surf fisherman and a man who was fascinated by the beauty of sunsets.

John J. "Jack" McHenry Sr. died Sunday at age 93.

Raised in Southwest Philadelphia, Jack met his future wife, Catherine Ludlow, while he was attending St. Joseph's Preparatory School and she was a student of West Catholic High.

They married in 1942 at the Quantico Marine Corps Base just before he was to ship out. They had a one-day honeymoon in Washington, D.C., and he was gone in a month, leaving only his promise to return.

Jack had taken ROTC training at St. Joseph's College, now St. Joseph's University, where he studied accounting, and shipped out with the Marines as a second lieutenant. He rose to the rank of major before his discharge.

On the train coming home, Jack got into a conversation with a man seated next to him. He told the man he was a veteran and had a date with a girl at Grand Central Terminal in New York.

When he arrived in New York, Jack was stricken with a malaria attack and lay in a bed in a hotel, shaking with fever.

For some reason, his wife turned on the radio and was in time to hear a disc jockey tell the story of how he had met a veteran on the train who was on his way to a date with a girl in New York.

So, he said he was dedicating a song, "Johnny's Got a Date With a Gal in New York," sung by Kate Smith, to the vet and his wife:

On the day he sailed away, he promised to be true,

And in her own way, she seemed to say,

Goodbye Johnny, I'll wait for you.

Jack spent 30 years in Newtown Square, where he founded his own real-estate and accounting business.

As a member and past commandant of the Smedley D. Butler Marine Corps League Detachment in Newtown Square, Jack was instrumental in raising funds for a World War II monument.

The monument on West Chester Pike was dedicated May 11. Jack couldn't be there, but he had been shown the monument before. It includes an inscription about his promise to his wife to return from the war and how he had fulfilled it.

Jack enjoyed vacationing and surf fishing at Stone Harbor and Ocean City, N.J., where he called everybody's attention to the sunsets. He got a kick out of painting landscapes by the numbers. He was also a dedicated member of the Knights of Columbus.

"He was a dignified man who lived his values," said his daughter, Karen Muth. "He had a strong work ethic, was very loyal and a good friend. As an accountant, he enjoyed working with numbers. He was a wonderful dad."

And, of course, he was a proud and patriotic Marine. He believed in the adage that "once a Marine, always a Marine," she said.

Besides his wife and daughter, he is survived by a son, John J. McHenry Jr.; two sisters, Rosemary Casey and Jeanne Grace Jacobs; five grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.

Services: Funeral Mass Thursday, 11 a.m. at St. Anastasia Church, 3301 West Chester Pike, Newtown Square. Friends may call at 10 a.m. at the church. Burial will be in Ss. Peter and Paul Cemetery, Marple.

Contributions may be made to the St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital, P.O. Box 1000, Dept. 142, Memphis, Tenn. 38105.

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