WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – Jack Henderson joined the Army in 1967 at 18, following in his brother’s footsteps.

“My brother had been in 1965 and 1966, and he had been to Vietnam with the ninth infantry division. He said, ‘Don’t go.'”

After training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, and Fort Eustace, Virginia, Henderson headed into what would become the bloodiest year of the Vietnam War.

“The first night we got there was really, really scary. I never took my clothes off. I just laid on the bunk, and flares were coming down, and I was kinda ‘arrr,’ and sirens went off.”

Jack Henderson

Henderson worked guard duty and, as an airframe repairman, later became a part-time gunner.

After Vietnam, he served as a flight engineer and platoon sergeant for the 190th Guard Unit in Olathe.

“It was just a lot of responsibility becoming, instead of taking care of one aircraft, you had to take care of 35 guys.”

Later, he left the 190th to become an aircraft instructor in the Army Reserve.

“They promoted me to W-2 and kicked me out of the active Reserves because I was in an officer slot. I didn’t do much then, and then a colonel got ahold of me about getting back in Reserves and teaching the Salina Guard helicopters.”

Eventually, Henderson taught classes across Kansas and Missouri. At the same time, he went on active duty to become an aircraft maintenance officer. It is a role that helped him land a job tending to Air Force One when President George H.W. Bush was in office.

“We sent a letter and stuck it in the desk of Air Force One, so then he wrote one back.”

Henderson retired from Boeing in 2002. Despite an illustrious military career spanning nearly three decades, Henderson says his service is far from over.

“One of my goals is still work with a lot of the vets no matter what service what war what conflict.”

Jack Henderson shows KSN News all of the memorabilia from his time in service (KSN Photo)

Heading to the VA every Friday, Henderson helps veterans just like him suffering from the effects of Agent Orange to get their benefits.

“I got a good friend. I worked with his case. I think he was 30%, so we worked on his, eight and a half years for him. He finally got his back pay.”

An encounter with another veteran at a rehab center would change how he dealt with his trauma forever.

“He kind of wanted to talk, but he didn’t want to talk. So, I went in to see him, and his wife walked out. I heard he was Air Force. And she shut the door, and he looked at me, and he started crying. I said, ‘Man, what are you crying about?’ He said, ‘I never told anybody I was in Vietnam.'”

The encounter inspired him to write a poem.

“Coming home to anger and protesting American people in my hometown! Who am I?” Henderson reads from one of his poems.

“That’s the first poem I ever wrote, and I wrote it on a napkin. I still got the napkin.”

One poem turned into many.

“I write poems that just pop out at me,” he said.

“I’m your mailman, your policeman, your neighbor. Who am I? I am the American soldier who hides my inner pain and feelings. Who am I? I am the hidden veteran, the Vietnam veteran.”

His words honor those who gave so much and continue to fight in silence to this day.

“I guess I’m just an old patriot because I’m still serving.”