How the Gospel Helped Twin WWII Veteran Brothers Reach Their 100th Birthdays

Contributed By Trent Toone, Church News contributor

  • 27 September 2018

Twin brothers Ralph and Boyd Henderson at their 100th birthday party last week in Pocatello, Idaho.  Photo courtesy of the Henderson family.

Article Highlights

  • Twin brothers Boyd and Ralph Henderson, 100, attribute their success in life to faithful adherence to gospel teachings.

“That is why I am 100 years old today, because I have kept the commandments that have been given to me.” —Boyd Henderson

POCATELLO, IDAHO

Before they celebrated their 100th birthdays with friends and family earlier this month, twin brothers and World War II veterans Boyd and Ralph Henderson shared lessons learned over a lifetime of membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Seated in matching soft red chairs and dressed in suits with orange ties, the silver-haired Henderson brothers were asked what difference the gospel of Jesus Christ has made in their lives.

It has made all the difference, they agreed.

“It is the only thing, the main thing in my life,” Boyd Henderson said. “That is why I am 100 years old today, because I have kept the commandments that have been given to me.”

But it's not quite over yet, his slightly younger brother, Ralph Henderson, added.

“Well, you have to keep the commandments. They are essential in life,” Ralph Henderson said. “I don't know why all these things have come upon me to live this long, but I am trying to keep the commandments, and someday I will go back to my Father in heaven and to my [wife,] Lena.”

Brothers Ralph and Boyd Henderson while at Fort Lewis, Washington, in 1942. Photo courtesy of the Henderson family.

The brothers Henderson are also stalwart believers in observing the Word of Wisdom, the Church's health code, outlined in Doctrine and Covenants 89.

Before their service in World War II, their father promised the twins, along with two other brothers and one brother-in-law, in priesthood blessings that if they observed the Word of Wisdom and lived the commandments, they would be protected and return home safely. They never forgot that promise, and all five returned home, the Hendersons said.

As a demonstration of their devotion, they sold the cigarettes and liquor that came with their K rations and collected enough money to buy lumber and supplies to build a small chapel for worship services on the island of Sardinia in the Mediterranean, with the help of other Latter-day Saint soldiers.

“There is a blessing there,” Boyd Henderson said of the Word of Wisdom. “There are a lot of people who don't understand it, and I explain it to them. That is why I think I am here today, because I kept the commandments of God and kept the Word of Wisdom.”

The Henderson brothers were born in Arimo, Idaho, on September 6, 1918, with Boyd born about two hours before Ralph. The 1929 stock market crash led the family to Pocatello, where the twins grew up working side by side in the family feed store.

Boyd and Ralph graduated from Pocatello High School in 1936. They went to a year of college and were considering missionary service when the radio announced Ralph's draft number in 1941. The brothers decided to enlist in the National Guard and became part of the 183rd Field Artillery Battalion.

Before going overseas, both brothers married their sweethearts. While on a three-day leave, Boyd Henderson was sealed to Ethel Chilton in the Salt Lake Temple.

When his convoy to the West Coast stopped to refuel in Pocatello, Ralph Henderson arranged to marry his high school sweetheart, Lena Rawlins, in less than four hours.

During the war, Boyd and Ralph Henderson did their best to stay in touch as they served in parts of North Africa and Europe. They were among the first troops to enter Rome and returned home with a souvenir Nazi flag.

After the war, the Henderson brothers settled down with their families and opened a sawmill in the Salmon National Forest. Later, they started the Henderson Lumber Company in Pocatello.

While Boyd Henderson served as a county commissioner and also as stake president and later a mission president in Melbourne, Australia, Ralph's wife, Lena, suffered a stroke that left her partially paralyzed. Ralph was her primary caretaker for 14 years. She died in 2001. A year later, Ralph married LeNore Thompson Smedley.

Ralph and Lena's posterity includes five children and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Julie Henderson Monroe, Ralph's daughter, said the 100th birthday party was worthwhile to see so many people honor her father.

“The party was an amazing experience to see so many people come to not only wish him [Ralph] a happy birthday but to thank him for the powerful impact his example and service has had on their life,” Monroe said in a text message. “I was told countless stories about my dad’s Christlike love and service. As I thought of his long life, I was overwhelmed to think of the thousands who have been a recipient of his goodness.”

One lesson Monroe learned from her father is what it means to have grit.

“I have seen him in many difficult situations, whether it was caring for 14 years for my mother after her debilitating stroke or health challenges and the ravages of age. He continues to push forward and does not give up,” she said. “He faithfully attends church, has a ministering assignment, and constantly asks me what more he could do to serve. He has limited eyesight and hearing, not to mention his compromised heart function since his attack in April. He just keeps going, and I know it isn't easy for him. His influence and love has touched thousands through his 100 years.”

Boyd's wife, Ethel, died in 2011. They also have a large posterity that includes dozens of grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Daughter Melanie Henderson Allen helped to create a display showcasing her father's life and was thrilled to see some of her father’s missionaries visit with him at the party.

“I prayed they would be able to live and reach their 100th birthdays,” Allen said. “He was so involved in serving others. He served God and kept the commandments. That was first in his life. … He’s a faithful guy.”

Besides being a patriot and Church leader, Boyd Henderson has been a BYU football season ticket holder since the 1970s and has a passion for water-skiing, although it’s been a while since he was behind a boat. He also supported the Boy Scouts of America and received the Silver Beaver Award, Allen said.

Jason Henderson, Boyd’s son, continues to see his father as a real-life hero.

“It’s hard to put into words how I feel,” Jason Henderson said. “Most boys grow up and idolize different people, a ballplayer or movie star. I can honestly say I have never idolized or held up anyone like I have my dad. He is the genuine article. After the war, he did everything he was supposed to do for his family. He served in his church and community. In all the different facets, he lived the way we hope we can live. I just want to emulate what he did. He has lived in a way that speaks volumes.”

Left, Boyd and Ethel Henderson, with Ralph and Lena Henderson, in Cheyenne, Wyoming, before the brothers departed for officer candidate school in 1941. Photo courtesy of the Henderson family.

Ralph Henderson, standing far left, and Boyd Henderson, standing second from the right, in front of the Latter-day Saint chapel they built with other LDS soldiers on the Isle of Sardinia. Photo courtesy of the Henderson family.

Ralph Henderson, left, and Boyd Henderson, right, were honored in the Provo Freedom Festival 2012. Photo courtesy of the Henderson family.

Twin brothers Ralph and Boyd Henderson visit with family and friends at their 100th birthday party last week in Pocatello, Idaho. Photo courtesy of the Henderson family.