Meals on Wheels client Henry, 65, is many things, but most notably he is full of stories to tell. A U.S. Army veteran, an outspoken sufferer of Sjogren’s Syndrome, and quite the conversationalist, Henry had a simple childhood in Alameda, just across the
bay. “We played with sticks. Literally!” he jokes. Eventually, Henry occupied himself by boxing at the Alameda Boys Club, a passion he pursued through high school and beyond. In 1969, with a high school diploma under his belt, he joined the 82nd Airborne Division as a paratrooper and headed overseas to Japan before returning to Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
Henry served our country from 1969 through 1976, all the while boxing and running track for the U.S. Army teams. He was one of two athletes in the 147 lb. weight class to make the 1976 U.S. Olympic Trials at Madison Square Garden and was known for his prowess in the 400m dash and pole vault. Henry looks back on these years with fondness and pride, but it’s what came next that makes Henry the fighter he is today.
Like so many others, Henry found himself depressed after he returned home from his service. His depression took its toll on every aspect of his life. He went through a divorce and, to cope, started abusing alcohol and drugs. Henry would fight for his sobriety for the next 25 years.
Over the course of those 25 years, Henry returned to the Bay Area, settling at first in West Oakland. From 1979 to 1987, he worked at the Port of Alameda and earned his Associate’s Degree in Mechanical Science from Alameda College. After a period of homelessness and heavy drug use, Henry got back on his feet and earned his Class A truck driver’s license and found employment with the Salvation Army. The 1990s saw Henry focusing on his recovery, relapsing several times throughout the process.
In 2000, things began to look up. Henry moved to San Francisco and found housing at the Veterans Academy in the Presidio, where he would live for 10 years. The Veterans Academy was good to Henry. He made friends, he committed to his sobriety, and he found his newest passion: computers. With the help of computer classes through the VA and a natural ability to understand the inner workings of machines, Henry found – for the first time in a long while – that he was happy and thriving.
Over the past few years, Henry has moved out of the VA – first to an affordable housing complex in the Mid-Market neighborhood of SF, and now, with the help of a Section 8 voucher, to a beautiful retirement community in SoMa. Today, he is proud to report that he is clean, sober, and busy filling up his computer’s 1 terabyte of storage.
In honor of Veterans Day – and every day – we at Meals on Wheels want to thank Henry for his service, his resilience, and the joy he brings to the lives of those around him. To each and every serviceman and –woman out there, we are thankful for you, we are proud of you, and – should you need our support – we are here.