The wartime tragedy of the Hensley twins

PUBLISHED: 14:00 27 January 2019 | UPDATED: 15:37 27 January 2019

The Hensley brothers, centre  Picture: Cambridge American Cemetary

The Hensley brothers, centre Picture: Cambridge American Cemetary


The 20-year-old brothers in arms who fought in WW2 but paid the ultimate price.

War is a thing of tragedy, of betrayal and profound immorality. War is messy and often unnecessary. War is often a tale of opposing political ideology’s clashing in a thunderous manner. War takes and breaks lives, it string’s along the dead and leaves the living with nightmare strewn futures. World War Two is a horrifying example of all of these characteristics. The genuinely global war ensnared and stole the lives of millions, as the politically immoral were confronted by the political moral. The mere thought of the mass bloodshed brings a tear to the eye of many historians. It is hard to comprehend the vast amount of lives that were lost, the number of characters that were shattered and the number of dreams that were dashed. It is difficult to comprehend how many soldiers lost their lives to a vicious jab, or a mechanical failure. It is hard to understand why so many noble-men died thousands of miles away from their families and why so many small children were forced to witness their families die. World War Two like all war was a senseless confrontation that should be counted as shameful to all humanity.

However, despite the butchery of the conflict, some brave and glorious individuals shone a light of love and hope. Edwin and Edward Hensley were twins who lived a particularly inspiring life. The pair were born on December 4, 1925 in the American state of North Carolina. Following the USA’s declaration of war on December 7 1941, the then 16-year-old Hensley’s became convinced that they would enlist to their nation’s cause, once they were eligible. The brothers were assigned to 773rd Bomb Squadron and were placed in the 453rd Bomb Group at Norfolk’s Old Buckenham airbase.They had a successful start to their military service and managed to play a key role in the life of their squadron and their crew onboard a B-24 Liberator.

However, everything changed on February 17, 1945. The boys flew as Left Waist Gunner and Tail Gunner to a vital enemy oil refinery in Magdeburg. While the crew sat over the North Sea waiting for the planes of their comrades to form; the freezing February weather and heavy clouds began peeling away the defences of their likely victim. The ugly weather caused the aircraft to ice up dangerously. Eventually, the Hensley’s B-24 Bomber had to fall out of formation and return to base. With the aircraft failing to answer the helm the captain rang the bail-out bell. It crashed just nine miles north of Cromer. Four of the 10-man crew were rescued, but there was no sign of Edward and Edwin.

The Hensley’s tale is awe-inspiring not because it is a particularly miraculously story but because the brothers seemed to be wholly committed to one another. The Hensley’s were born and raised together, what kind of bond must have they had? Who raised the question of going to war? Perhaps one brother suggested enlisting, and the other supported him and followed him blindly into conflict. What of their death? Perhaps they jumped from the plane together, or maybe they spent their last moments next to each other. Maybe one brother tried to save the other, perhaps one was hurt in the crash, and the other attempted to revive him. Though we do not know what came of the brothers, to think they came to a triumphant end and were together in their last glimpse of life as they were at their first gasp of air, is a comforting and stirring thought. The Hensley’s story of love and commitment to each other is heartening and rousing, especially in a time where we are often divided and selfish.

It is great to think the Hensley’s story signifies the care, support and consideration that we can and should show to one another. It is pleasant to imagine the simplistic responsibility the brothers took for one another’s needs and how they may have shown their love to one another in their most significant moment of sorrow.

There is no doubt that the Hensley’s story is thought-provoking and full of modern resonance, inspiration and emotion. Their story is just one of over 5,000 that are displayed at The Cambridge American Cemetery.

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