John Robert Henley, a former Lieutenant Commander in the United States Navy, died peacefully on Oct. 6, 2019, in Napa, at the age of 94, surrounded by his loving family. John fought in the Allied invasions of Salerno and Normandy in World War II, served during the Korean War and enjoyed a lifetime maritime career, even after his retirement from the Navy.
He was born on July 17, 1925, in the city of Sherbrooke in Quebec, Canada, to American parents, and eventually became a naturalized U.S. citizen. He was the son of the late Lowell Henley, who served in the Maine State Legislature, and the late Virginia Kluth. He was the step-son of the late Walter Berry, a lieutenant, in the Navy.
His parents divorced when he was young and John spent much of his childhood on family farms in and around idyllic North Waterford and Norway, Maine, during the Great Depression before moving to live with his mother and step-father in San Diego, California.
After enlisting in the Navy at 17, he was sent to join the war. During a port call in New York, fate intervened and, when a young telephone operator named Barbara Strutton dialed the wrong number, it was John who happened to answer. They went on to exchange letters for two years during his deployment in Europe. Less than a month after their first actual meeting, under the wall clock at New York’s Penn Station three days after Christmas of 1945, the two married on Jan. 25 in the Rectory of St. Peters Church in Jersey City.
After participating in the major Allied landings in Europe, for which he earned a chest full of ribbons and four battle stars, John went on to the Pacific Theater in the waning days of the war. He remained in the Navy after World War II and would also be sent to the Korean War in 1953. He ultimately reached the rank of Lieutenant Commander. Toward the end of his military career, John moved to Groton, Connecticut, where he reported to the legendary Admiral Hyman Rickover (“the father of the nuclear submarine”) as an officer supervising the construction of the USS Skipjack, the third nuclear submarine ever to be built.
With his two children Sharyn and Greg growing up fast, John retired from the U.S. Navy in 1963 to spend more time with his family, but his travels around the world would continue. Soon after, he began a second, 20-year maritime career with United States Salvage, a company that assessed damage to marine vessels for insurance underwriters. The work took him all over the West Coast, Alaska and the world, with moves to Portland, Seattle, Tampa, Yokohama, Japan, and London, England. During this time, he also obtained a pilot’s license and enjoyed flying his Piper Arrow with Barbara. Other hobbies included equestrian pursuits and golf, which would become a regular activity during the later years of his life, which were spent at a retirement community in Roseville, Calif. He was also a talented scribe and wrote a riveting memoir that will be passed down by his family for generations to come.
Our beloved father, grandfather and great grandfather John Henley, our lifelong friend, mentor and war hero, is survived by his wife of 74 years, Barbara Strutton of Napa, Calif.; his sister Alair Van Outrive, 97, of Clayton, Calif.; his daughter Sharyn Lindsey of Napa, Calif.; his son Greg Henley and his wife Lotta Henley of Tahoe City, Calif.; his grandson Dwight Lindsey and his wife Kristy Lindsey of Napa, Calif.; his grandson Daryl Lindsey of Berlin, Germany; and his great granddaughters, whom he would live long enough to know as adults, Alyssa Lindsey, a senior at UC Santa Barbara, and Amanda Lindsey, a sophomore at San Diego State University.
His burial service will be held at the Sacramento Valley National Cemetery in Dixon, Calif., on Friday, Nov. 8, at 9:30 a.m.