A Life of Service

This week’s prompt for 52 Ancestors is Military.

Henry H. Medlock joined the Army Air Corps in 1940. He would go on to serve for 30 years in the Army Air Corps and the Air Force. His service follows many ancestors before him and set an example for his sons. Military service is devotion to country, freedom, and family; and being willing to make personal sacrifices for these things. It has an effect on those who serve and their families, something I have personally experienced growing up as an army daughter. Henry was my grandfather.

Henry was born in February 1915 to Henry T. and Martha Medlock, in Edgefield County, South Carolina. His mother died an hour after Henry was born. He lived with his father and when he was about 4 years old, his father married Julia Prescott, a widow with 3 daughters.

Henry went to live with his Medlock grandparents by the time he started school. After graduation, he couldn’t find work because of the depression, so he went to Clemson College for two years. Henry would later tell his son that it was cheaper for him to go to school than to live at home. At Clemson, he participated in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) program and studied chemical engineering.

Medlock-HHAfter college, around 1937, he went to work for Swift and Company as a travelling salesmen to grocery stores. His travels would take him to Abbeville, South Carolina, where he would meet Bettye DuPre, whom he would later marry. They would have 6 children together.

In October of 1940, Henry enlisted in the Army Air Corps. It’s not known exactly why he joined, but the best guess is that it was good employment during the depression and with World War II ramping up. But he may have had patriotic reasons as well. He was first stationed at Orlando Air Base in Florida. He married Bettye the following summer and  the United States entered World War II the winter after that.


Henry spent most of World War II on the eastern seaboard as part of an anti-submarine division. Bettye, and eventually their first son, would sometimes follow Henry to these posts and sometimes they would live in Abbeville with Bettye’s family. In 1943, Henry was transferred to Hawaii and, in 1944, he went to Saipan. In 1945, he returned home to Bettye and their son in South Carolina.

Henry kept a diary from 25 December 1941 through 24 October 1945. The diary has been an invaluable insight into his thoughts and feelings during this time. He passed away when I was quite young, so the diary has been a way to get to know him better; to hear his voice and understand him a little more. I especially love reading about how much he loved my grandmother and how excited he was at the birth of his first son. The first entry captured me the first time I ever read it:

Today I am the most unworthy recipient of this book and radio from my precious darling and henceforth I shall endeavor to scribble here on facts in brief of things that happen so that in days to come we may sit quietly and do a bit of reminiscing in and over the facts recorded herein; in days when I hope that there will be peace – peace forever – so that I may live with her til the end of our existence on this earth.

The family would spend the next years together and apart as Henry was stationed stateside and overseas, in places like Texas, Oklahoma, Puerto Rico, Spain, and Thailand.

In 1947, the Army Air Corp became the United States Air Force and Henry continued his service in the Air Force. His assignments included shipping clerk, ROTC instructor, personnel clerk supervisor, and gas plant tech.

Henry’s two sons would also join the army. He and his oldest son had tours in Viet Nam that overlapped for about six months in 1968. Henry’s oldest retired as a colonel after almost 30 years of honorable service.

Henry retired in 1970 as a Senior Master Sargent and returned to South Carolina where Bettye was living. After retiring, he was a member of the retired reserves, worked at the local Esso Station, and at the local hardware store.

He passed away in 1984.

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