WWII Marine vet surprised with uniform 73 years after discharge

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COLUMBIA - When 93-year-old Thomas Henderson walked into the MarineParents.com corporate office Friday, he thought he was getting a unit patch for his veteran jacket. Little did he know, his friends and family members were waiting to surprise him with something he has wanted for more than 70 years - a Marine Corps dress blue uniform. 

MarineParents.com, an organization in Columbia that provides services to Marines.

The surprise began with a presentation about Henderson's time as a Marine by Mike Hoeferlin, a MarineParents.com board member. Hoeferlin said when Henderson was in high school he saw a life-size cardboard cutout of a Marine officer and was inspired to enlist. 

"After seeing the uniform he said, 'That uniform looks pretty cool maybe I can impress my girlfriend with it,'"Hoeferlin said. 

Hoeferlin said after enlisting, Henderson got off the bus in San Diego and expected to receive the blue uniform, but at the time only certain Marines received them. 

Hoeferlin said after finishing boot camp, Henderson went to Orange County, California where his best memories were hitchhiking up to Hollywood where he met movie stars such as Shirley Temple. 

"He still wished he had that blue uniform though," Hoeferlin said. 

Hoeferlin said he and Henderson were at the MarineParents.com office Thursday when Henderson saw a calendar with Marines on the cover and said, "You know I never did get one of those blue uniforms." 

One of Henderson's sons, Dan, said he got a call from his brother about a month ago who said the oganization wanted to make the surprise happen. 

"I guess having it was one of the things he continued to talk about with these two individuals at the organization so they took it upon themselves to make it happen," Dan Henderson said. 

Corporate secretary Marilyn Dilts and Hoeferlin reached out to a local Marine recruiter who volunteered to donate the coat. MarineParents.com later purchased the additional uniform items and had it custom tailored for Henderson. Hoeferlin was able to get the measurements for the uniform by taking Henderson to try on sport coats without telling him what the measurements were really for. 

Dilts said Henderson's sons helped by giving her information about their father and getting his ribbons for the uniform.

While trying on his uniform Friday Henderson said, "It's the first time I've ever had one on. All I can say right now is thank you, this is a real surprise and I appreciate it very much."

He said he plans to wear the uniform to ceremonies put on by the Veterans of Foreign Wars, an organization he is an active member of. 

"I can always wear it at the ceremonies we have and I will do that," Henderson said. 

Dan Henderson said it is great to be able to honor his father with something he was never able to receive while he was in the service. 

"It's great for him to have earned that at the age of 93 and I will tell you he will cherish that for the rest of his life," Dan Henderson said.