Lofton Russell Henderson was born in Lorain, Ohio. He attended the United States Naval Academy (USNA) class of 1926. Assigned to the U. S. Marine Corps (USMC), Henderson served in China, the Caribbean and aboard USS Langley (CV-1), USS Ranger CV-4 and USS Saratoga (CV-3) before World War II.
During 1942, Major Henderson was Commanding Officer (C. O.) of Marine Scout-Bombing Squadron 241 (VMSB-241) at Midway Airfield on Eastern Island in Midway Atoll.
On June 4, 1942 took off from Midway Airfield piloting SBD-2 Dauntless 2129 as part of a strike by USMC aircraft from VMSB-241 against the Japanese fleet at the start of the Battle of Midway. Col. Ira L. Kimes, commanding officer of MAG-22 ordered the squadron to "Attack enemy carriers bearing 320° distance 180 miles course 135° speed 20 knots." The formation included a total of 27 Marine aircraft including sixteen SBD-2 Dauntless dive bombers led by Henderson plus eleven SB2U-3 Vindicators led by Major Benjamin W. Norris.
Flying faster than the Vindicators, the Dauntless formation climbed to 9,000' and sighted the Japanese fleet at 7:55am including at least two enemy carriers. Henderson's formation circled to 8,500' in preparation for initiating a glide bombing attack from 4,000'.
At roughly 8,000' the formation was intercepted by Japanese A6M2 Zeros. As lead aircraft, Henderson's SBD was one of the first targeted by Zeros and hit by gunfire causing his left wing burst into flames from enemy anti-aircraft fire, but he continued his attack until his plane crashed. When this aircraft failed to return both crew members were officially declared Missing In Action (MIA).
After Henderson was shot down, Captain Glidden took command of the rest of the formation and attacked despite heavy anti-aircraft fire and Zeros. Although the Marines claimed one of the carriers was burning and smoking heavily, they claimed three direct hits and two near misses. From the Japanese side, three SBDs from VMSB-241 likely scored near misses against Kaga at 8:30 and four near misses against Hiryū at 8:50am. Possibly, one of the SBDs (misidentified as a fighter by the Japanese) strafed Hiryū and killed four crew. Nagumo erroneously noted that Akagi and Soryu sustained bomb hits but this seems to have been reported in error as the damage caused to both carriers were likely caused by U. S. Navy SBD Dauntless dive bombers later in the morning.
Eight VMSB-241 aircraft were lost including SBD 2129 (MIA) and SBD 2148 (pilot survived, gunner MIA). Also, eleven SB2U-3 led by Major Benjamin W. Norris.
Henderson was officially declared dead on June 5, 1943. Henderson is memorialized on the courts of the missing at Honolulu Cemetery (Punchbowl), court 4. He earned Purple Heart and the Navy Cross posthumously. He remains listed as Missing In Action (MIA).
Lofton R. Henderson Navy Cross Citation (posthumous):
"The Navy Cross is presented to Lofton R. Henderson, Major, U.S. Marine Corps, for extraordinary heroism as Squadron Commander of Marine Scout-Bombing Squadron TWO HUNDRED FORTY-ONE (VMSB- 241), during action against enemy Japanese forces in the Battle of Midway on June 4, 1942. With utter disregard for his own personal safety, Major Henderson, with keen judgment and courageous aggressiveness in the face of strong enemy fighter opposition, led his squadron in an attack which contributed materially to the defeat of the enemy. He was subsequently reported as missing in action. It is believed he gallantly gave up his life in the service of his country.
Three airfields were named "Henderson Field" in honor of Henderson:
(1) Lunga Point Airfield (Henderson Field, Bomber 1) on Guadalcanal, (2) Midway Airfield (Eastern Island Airfield, NAS Midway Islands) in Midway Atoll and (3) Sand Island Airfield (Henderson Field) both in Midway Atoll.
During 1945, USS Henderson (DD-785) was named in his honor. Also, in his hometown of Lorain, Ohio the 21st Street Bridge was renamed "Lofton Henderson Memorial Bridge".
Naval Academy Yearbook "The Lucky Bag" class of 1926 (photo of Henderson)
NARA War Diary Marine Scout-Bombing Squadron Two Forty-One, Marine Aircraft Group Twenty-Two, Second Marine Aircraft Wing, FMF., June 1, 1932 to June 30, 1942
"4. At about 0755 the enemy task force was sighted and preparations were made to attack. It was the intention of Major Henderson to make a gild-bombing attack from about 4,000 feet; the approach was started to get into position. At the first part of the let-down circle the squadron was attacked by several enemy fighter planes. Violent anti-aircraft fire was started by the enemy at this time. Fighter were observed taking off from the carrier deck."
(Page 6) "Missing in action were: - 1. Major Lofton R. Henderson and his gunner Pfc. Lee W. Reininger, who were shot down in flames during approach to dive on target."
Marine Corps Chevron, Volume 2, Number 51, 25 December 1943 "Betio Airfield Named For Hero Of Bloody Fight"
"Henderson Field on Guadalcanal was named for Maj. Lofton R. Henderson, commanding officer of a dive bomber squadron."
U. S. Marine Corps in World War II pages 54, 56, 58, 60, 73, 77 (footnote 7), 81, 433, 485 (index)
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Lofton R. Henderson
FindAGrave - Maj Lofton Russell "Joe" Henderson (photos, courts of the missing)
Do you have photos or additional information to add?