by Austin DuVall

On January 11, 1941, Winthrop Rockefeller enlisted as a private in the U.S. Army. Soon a second lieutenant and machine-gun instructor, then a commander, he led men through action across the South Pacific during his 18 months overseas, including the attack on the USS Henrico that ended his military career.

Having already participated in the Battle of Guam, Winthrop set out for the invasion of Okinawa. On April 2, 1945, he was wounded in a kamikaze attack on the USS Henrico. As the regimental surgeon on board, Graham Hawks said he and Winthrop were playing cards when two Japanese planes tore through the ship, exploding inside.

“All of a sudden there was a deafening explosion and a yellow flame and the sensation of the inability to breathe.” No one knew what had happened but there was a giant cavity in the ship all the way down to the waterline. Hawks thought the ship had struck a mine or a submarine. Many sleeping quarters were now gone. No one knew who was dead or alive or who was in command. Hawks worried Rockefeller was dead but eventually found him.

From the UA Little Rock Center for Arkansas History & Culture

The ship caught fire and despite severe burns to his head and hands, Winthrop, the only surviving officer on board, kept command of his unit and worked throughout the night to keep the ship afloat until reinforcements arrived. While campaigning for governor in 1966, interviewer Maurice Moore asked Winthrop about his experience on the USS Henrico, and he reported he was one of 150 men wounded and that 75 died from the attack. He was awarded a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star with Oak Leaf Clusters for his actions.

Winthrop brought these skills of strength and leadership learned on the USS Henrico to Arkansas. Just as his upbringing and time in the oil fields taught him valuable lessons, his experiences in the military were just as important to his legacy as a philanthropist, governor, and friend to many.

Austin DuVall

Communications & Content 727-6251


  1. 1
    Tom on April 14, 2022

    Very good. I am glad to say he was also my friend. I admired his company and how he respected and was always wanting to move forward!

  2. 2
    Marion Stevenson on April 20, 2023

    I had never heard the interview by the Governor regarding the attack on The Henrico, I had heard and read stories. Your article reminds everyone of how highly decorated he was. Listening to him tell his story regarding the attack, vs. simply writing his story, brings it all to a totally different level! Thank you for a job well done.

    Marion Stevenson

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