He died Jan. 29, 1945
Destruction, 29 January
December 1944, the Liberty ship commenced
loading at Wellington, finished it at Auckland, and returned
to the Solomons in mid-January 1945. Late in the
evening on 29 January 1945, Serpens was
anchored off Lunga Beach. The commanding officer and seven others,
one officer and six enlisted men, were ashore. The remaining 198 members of Serpens crew and 57 members of an Army stevedore
unit were on board the ship, loading depth charges into her holds. During the
loading, Serpens exploded. The force of the
explosion was so great that it killed an Army soldier who was ashore. After
the explosion, only the bow of the ship was visible. The rest had
disintegrated, and the bow sank soon afterward. Only two sailors aboard
survived the incident. The cause of the explosion was never completely
determined. The loss of the Serpens remains
the largest single disaster ever suffered by the U.S. Coast Guard.
Henry was born in 1922. Prior to the war, he attended grammar school and
worked as a laborer at a sawmill.
Francis V. Henry enlisted in the US Army on February 16, 1943 at Fort
Oglethorpe, Georgia with several of his classmates and friends from Monroe County. Private First Class Henry was
assigned to the 231st Port Company and stationed aboard the Coast Guard ship
the USS Serpens AK-97 as an Army Stevedore.
The USS Serpens was built as a commercial cargo
ship but was used during World War II as a transport ship for the military.
On January 29, 1945 the USS Serpens was located
about one mile off Lunga
Guadalcanal, in the Solomon
Islands. Three of her holds had recently
been converted for ammunition stowage.
The Coast Guard crew and a detail of Army Stevedores were loading onto the
ship 350 pounds of depth charge explosives. With a deadly explosion, 250 men
were either quickly killed by the blast or drowned as the Serpens
quickly sank to the bottom of the sea.
Private First Class Henry was aboard the Serpens
when it exploded and was killed. While the vessel was at Lunga
Point, Francis Henry had reconnected with Pvt. Glenn B. Frank one of the
classmates and fellow friends from Monroe
County that he had enlisted with in February 1943. Pfc. Henry and Pvt. Frank
were enjoying each other's company no doubt talking about home and the war.
As a result of their friendship, Private Frank decided to stay aboard the USS
Serpens for the night and was tragically killed
aboard a ship he was not even assigned to but just visiting.
Private First Class Henry was originally buried at the Army, Navy and Marine Cemetery
in Guadalcanal with full military honors and religious services. The remains of the men
were repatriated under the program for the return of World War II dead in
1949. The mass recommittal of the 250 casualties
took place in section 34 at MacArthur Circle, Arlington National Cemetery
Researcher and Designer
Joy Locke & Joe Irons