Community remembers Henry Joseph on Veterans Day
SALYERSVILLE – As Magoffin County stopped to honor Veterans Day on Monday, one significant absence was felt during the school program held at the high school.
On November 11, as has been customary for many years, a program was held at the Magoffin County High School, honoring past and present local veterans, but the absence of former long-time local DAV Commander Henry J. Joseph, who passed away on October 29, was felt by the community.
Joseph, who was a member of the Plumbers and Steam Fitters Local Union #248, the Salyersville Masonic Lodge, District 3 Volunteer Fire Department, and the Salyersville First Baptist Church, was best known in the community as serving as the commander of the DAV Chapter 15.
Magoffin County Schools Superintendent Scott Helton, who is also Joseph’s son-in-law, said during the program on Monday, “One thing that was constant was his service to the community and his service to his country. He was very proud of it. He was not only a member of the DAV; he was a member of the fire department – a volunteer fire fighter; he was a member of the local water board; and if he could serve on any board or help out in any way, he would.”
Helton said that this time of year reminds him of Joseph because he would always contact him about setting up the school events for Veterans Day.
“He was excited about this and he wanted the kids to be able to see what it was like to be a veteran,” Helton said. “I guess, for me, I want you to understand one thing. He lived his life the way he wanted to and for the last few years he was very sick, but not one time did I hear him complain about his sickness or illnesses. Henry wanted the best for everyone around. He wanted you to do your very best. He wanted you to compete. He didn’t want you to say, ‘I can’t.’ He wouldn’t have that.”
Randall Hardin, who is also with the DAV Chapter 15, told Mortimer Media Group, “Henry through the years was very inspirational to us all. Henry was always the go-to guy. Henry would always have ideals for us to do and most of the ideals were good ideals. The unique thing about Henry was his ability to compromise on what his thoughts were. Henry would have a thought and would discuss it with the Chapter and other people would come up with things he didn’t think of and, to be a great leader, I think you need to be able to listen to other people and Henry had that about him.”
Magoffin County Judge-Executive Matt Wireman spoke to the junior class at Magoffin County High School, encouraging the students to go home and talk to their families about the military history within their own families, telling them that as a community, they need to know of those who served and their stories, many of which were quite heroic. He noted the Whitt brothers, who were killed during WWII and recently honored by the community, and Ray Fairchild, a Korean War veteran whose body was identified earlier this year and is coming home later this month after being missing since his death 69 years ago.
State Representative John Blanton spoke to the crowd about how greatly Joseph will be missed and the impact he made on his family, community and country. He said everyone should take the time to honor him by paying forward the sacrifice and effort that Joseph and other veterans made.
While all who knew of Henry J. Joseph spoke fondly of his dedication to his fellow veterans, his community and his family, one above all else credits much of his military success to Joseph’s influence.
Henry’s nephew, Lieutenant Colonel Paul Holbrook said, “My dad was in the military for 22 years in the air force, so there were times when he would have to go overseas and we would have to stay here, and whenever those periods came around, Henry was like my second father. Other than my parents, he shaped me more than anybody I know. He showed me what a work ethic was – that if you worked hard you could achieve whatever you wanted to achieve in life.”
Holbrook said Joseph was always fun to be around when he was a kid, pulling quarters out of his ear and other fun tricks, noting he was always fun to be around and upbeat.
“As I grew older, when I went to college, I worked for him at his gas station,” Holbrook remembered. “Now, I remember one time I changed 12 coal truck tires one day and I was kind of a skinny guy back then. I was probably gritting my teeth the whole time I was doing it because I sure didn’t like it and I sure didn’t like the pay, but it taught me what he had expressed to me, that if you were willing to work, you could achieve something in this lifetime.”
When he graduated college and was commissioned as a second lieutenant, he said he had to pay a nod to Joseph.
“One of the traditions of a second lieutenant is the first person you salute, you present to them a silver dollar and Henry was the one that got that silver dollar.”
Hardin said in Joseph’s later years, he drew personal inspiration from him.
“Seeing the battles he went through with cancer, he just continued to go, to carry his oxygen tank and he would go with a little pep in his step,” Hardin said. “For us as a chapter and for me as an individual, I just grew strength from that. He’ll be sadly missed. A man of Henry’s stature, you don’t replace. You just march on with open ranks. He was truly a hardworking veteran. He loved his country. He loved his family. But most importantly, he loved God. God, country and family was what Henry stood for.”
DAV Chapter 15 Commander Roger Hirst told Mortimer Media Group that everyone loved Joseph.
“He showed me how to drive the bus and he showed me how to put fuel in the bus,” Hirst laughed. “He was grooming me to be the bus driver was what he was doing, on the slide. He loved music and I love music, too. What a compliment of a guitarist that he was. We just had so many different likes that we just hit it off and boy could we eat. He and I could sit down, and we could tear into a chicken.”
Hirst said Joseph’s personality was what made him stand out.
“Henry’s personality – his persona – was just 100% positive,” Hirst said. “He was drawn to the young kids. He would draw to the teenagers. He would draw to those who weren’t so young, and he just loved people. Henry would just talk to you in a heartbeat. I’m sure there wasn’t a stranger Henry never met because within a couple of minutes, he knew something about them and he was telling them something about himself.”
Holbrook, who Joseph would call “Big P,” said, “I would go see him, even before he got sick, and he’d go, ‘Hey, Big P!’ and give you a hug. He made whoever, not just myself, but whoever welcome. You were his friend and he was your friend. I know he had expressed several times how proud he was at what I done in the military and I told him that when you have a mentor like that, you want to do your best.”
Lieutenant Colonel Holbrook credits much of his military success, including the Legion of Merit, which is the highest peace time decoration any military personnel can receive, to the influences of Henry Joseph.
“I was very proud when I won it because, if it hadn’t been for some of Henry’s influences in my life, I would have probably been average, so to speak,” Holbrook said. “But average is not good enough. Anybody can be average and that’s what I learned from him. He meant more than words and I can express.”
Joseph’s dedication to his community and his fellow veterans also earned him the title of not just commander of Chapter 15, but he will be forever known as “The Commander.”
Hardin said, “We refer to Henry as the commander of the DAV Chapter 15. Our chapter’s had many commanders, great commanders, may I add, but Henry’s longevity as commander has earned him the title of ‘The Commander’ of the DAV Chapter 15.”
Similarly, Hirst said, “Henry Joseph will always be ‘The Commander’ of the DAV Chapter 15. I salute you.”
“Just like that first salute that I gave my silver dollar to, I would like to salute you, Uncle Henry,” Holbrook said.
Joseph passed away on October 29 at the age of 78, and was survived by his wife, Brenda Joseph, two daughters, Paula Mann (Terry) Flora, Augusta Mann (Scott) Helton, two grandchildren, Dawson Helton, Chloe Helton, one adoptive granddaughter, Courtney Gambill, two sisters-in-laws, Priscilla Joseph and Jackie Joseph.