JAMES DAVID HENSON
June 26, 1932 – March 19, 2019
"Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth, And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings; Sunward I've climbed and joined the tumbling mirth of sun-split clouds - and done a hundred things You have not dreamed of - wheeled and soared and swung high in the sunlit silence. Hovering there I've chased the shouting wind along and flung my eager craft through footless halls of air. "Up, up the long delirious burning blue I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace, where never lark, or even eagle, flew; and, while with silent, lifting mind I've trod the high untrespassed sanctity of space, put out my hand and touched the face of God." --John Gillespie Magee, Jr
Our father, Cdr. James D. Henson, USN (Ret), slipped the surly bonds of earth for his last and greatest flight at 1:38 am, March 19, 2019. Please join the family as we celebrate our father’s amazing life on April 8 at El Camino Memorial, Encinitas Chapel, 340 Melrose Ave., Encinitas from 11-4 pm (viewing from 11:00-2:30). A reception will follow at The Crossings Golf Course, 5800 The Crossings Drive, Carlsbad. Burial at Riverside National Cemetery at 10:30 am on Tuesday, April 9. Jim was born at home in a one room cabin in Pearcy, Arkansas on June 26, 1932. Jim’s father died in 1938, leaving his mother, Rilla, to raise him and his sisters Opal, Pearl and Mary, on the family farm. The children learned the importance of hard work and commitment at very young ages. All four children loved learning; each of them becoming valedictorians of their respective high school classes. Jim graduated from Lake Hamilton High School, having read every book in the library, at 16. His sister worked some magic to gain Jim an opportunity to test for a prestigious 4-year full-ride scholarship to Washington University in St. Louis. Competing against more than 400 other candidates, he amazed himself (but no one else) by winning one of the 10 scholarships. He graduated with two degrees in 1953 and immediately entered the Naval Officer Candidate School in Newport RI. After commissioning, he completed an around-the-world tour on the USS Hornet. During a layover in San Diego, he met the love of his life, our mother Faralene, in a Mexican restaurant on Coronado. It was love at first sight for our father and a whirlwind courtship ensued. Jim and Faralene married in December 1955. Jim then entered Naval flight training in Corpus Christi, earning his Aviator’s wings in March 1957. After completing flight training, Jim deployed to Whidbey Island Washington, flying the P5-Marlin seaplane, the precursor to the P-3 Orion aircraft. While flying the P5 over the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Astoria Oregon in 1959, an engine fire forced Jim to ditch in 12-foot seas, at night. After bobbing in heavy seas for 10 hours in 2 rafts, the nearly frozen airmen were rescued by the Coast Guard. While 6 P5 Marlins had disappeared without explanation in the previous 2 years, our father’s successful ditching gave Lockheed the information it needed to fix the mechanical defect that caused the engine fires. The miracle off of Astoria was described in a number of newspapers, with the survival of all 11 airmen attributed entirely to the skill of the pilot. The family next deployed to Iwakuni, Japan with VP50. Children Mark and Kimberly were joined by Jim Jr. and Debbie, both born in Iwakuni. The family loved living in Japan and their beloved nanny, Hiyako. From 1963 until retirement in 1978, the family lived in Pensacola, San Diego, Cupertino, Newport RI, and Washington DC. He served 2 tours in Viet Nam, flying both P5s and P3s. Jim retired from the Navy in 1978; his beloved Faralene missed the California sun and insisted it was time, now that all four children were out of high school. In the course of his 23 years in the Navy, he earned several awards and medals, including the Navy Commendation Medal for meritorious service. Without missing a day of work, he transitioned from Naval Air Systems Command to working in nearly the same capacity for a military subcontractor located in Alameda, CA. For the next 20 years, he worked as an avionics engineer, devoted to keeping the P3 fleet in the air to defend the country he loved and served nearly his entire life. He fully retired in 1998 after the Alameda depot was transitioned to Jacksonville FL. Our parents moved to Carlsbad, CA in 2000. They settled into retirement, hoping for time to travel and enjoy their grandchildren. They suffered through the premature death of Jim Jr. in 2003 and then Faralene was diagnosed with Stage III breast cancer in 2005. Our father immediately launched into battle mode, determined that cancer would not win. They fought hard, moving to Houston for 9 months for treatment at MD Anderson Cancer Center. Despite their best efforts, the cancer metastasized to Faralene’s brain and she passed away at home on August 30, 2010. We watched our parent’s love for each other grow stronger as they fought to stay together against bleak odds. My father missed our mother every day. Our father passionately loved sports throughout his life. He was invited to join the farm leagues for the Yankees and the White Sox after high school, but decided that education was a better path. He played baseball well into his 40s and tennis into his 70s. His Moffett Field softball team played in the Navy championships in 1968, placing second. While figure skating was not his sport, he supported his wife’s passion for it without much complaint. Our father was a wonderful father, grandfather, great-grandfather and human being. He was quick to offer support to those in need and even quicker to write letters to those who made a difference in his life or the lives of those he loved. He was generous, kind, humble and incredibly smart, giving all who dared to debate him a challenging task right up until the day he died. We have heard from so many people who called to tell us how their lives were made better by him. To his grandchildren especially, he was their rock and place of refuge during stormy weather. Jim was preceded in death by his beloved Faralene and sons Mark Vreeland and James Henson, Jr. He is survived by his sister, Mary Johnson, daughters Kimberly Henson and Debbie (Dan) Varner, grandsons Bret, Sean, Mitchell (Cozette) and Brandon Vreeland; Christopher (Dawn) Patterson, James and Joshua (Davee) Henson; and Justin, Geoffry (Breanne) and Jeremy (Katie) Varner. He is also survived by 6 beloved great-grandchildren and 21 nephews and nieces. Debbie started a nonprofit animal rescue/veterinary clinic in memory of our mother in 2012. In lieu of flowers, please consider making a donation to Follow Your Heart Foundation, a 501(c)3 nonprofit, in Jim’s memory. Please go to followyourheartanimalrescue.org and click on the “Donate” button.
- Visitation Monday, April 8, 2019
- Celebration of Life Monday, April 8, 2019