Henry Edward Tisdale, Jr

NO. 17362  •  

Died 14 September 1951 in Las Vegas, Nevada, aged 23 years. Interment: West Point Cemetery, West Point. New York.


IN THE SUMMER OF 1950, Henry Edward Tisdale. Jr. and I, newly commissioned second lieutenants in the United States Air Force, met as planned in Washington, D.C. Several weeks before, we had agreed to drive our brand new automobiles, in tandem, bound for San Antonio, Texas. to begin our careers in the Air Force. We were close friends, having spent four years together as classmates at La Salle Military Academy in Oakdale, New York, along with Henry's sibling, Patrick David Tisdale. From there. the three of us went on together to West Point, graduating in the USMA Class of 1950.

The family was an extraordinary one. The father, Colonel Henry E. Tisdale. Sr., as an artillery officer who designed firing systems, conducted the first airborne military operation, built the defense system for the Panama Canal, and facilitated the initial development of the Women's Army Corps in World War II. Young Henry’s older brothers Paul and Pierre (USMA 1944) were his role models: and he also valued the companionship of his younger brother Pat at West Point, especially during plebe year. A sister Julie, at IBM, and another younger brother John, an electronics engineer, completed the remarkably gifted progeny.

The strong family influence produced in Henry an intellect which was multifaceted. A voracious reader, a star‑man every year at La Salle and at West Point, Henry was a happy, exuberant young man and a dedicated American patriot as well. He saw his mission in life to be that of a superior military role model, and he did strive continually toward that goal. His father’s success and his brothers' influence had much to do with Henry’s need to excel, but with all of that, his sense of humor and his gentility were always with him. At graduation ceremonies in 1950, Henry ranked sixteenth in a class of 670.

Now, I think back forty years ago to our drive to San Antonio, where our service in the Air Force was to begin. I had a brand new white Chevrolet ‑ a graduation gift bought at the A&C dealer in Highland Falls ‑ and Henry's car was a gun‑metal grey Nash, the right front seat of which turned down to form a bed. Whenever we decided to stop for the night, I chose a motel, and Henry slept in the Nash. He was probably just as comfortable in his car bed as I was in the motel, and the price didn't bother him either! During the day, we'd stock up on fruit, cookies and milk for the day's journey, and we'd have a decent meal when evening arrived. We drove southwestward furiously, taking turns in the lead, and we had a few close calls along the route. We’d settled on some signals: when to slow down. when to hit the brakes, traffic up ahead. etc. I'll never forget one particular heartthumper: Henry was in the lead on an uphill two-­lane road, I was in the left lane trying to overtake a van. Suddenly, at the crest of the hill, I saw Henry's left arm signaling furiously as a sedan appeared over the hill, racing in my direction. To pass the van was impossible; to get behind it was unreachable. My only chance was to veer to the left and go off the road, hoping the shoulder would hold. Fortunately, as the sedan passed, I quickly turned the wheel back to reach the right lane. At the top of the hill, Henry had pulled over to wait for me. It might have been a disaster, so we vowed never to take such a chance again. We did finally reach San Antonio safe and sound, only to learn that we were to be assigned to different air bases in Texas. After eight years as classmates and friends, we were separated.

Henry remained in San Antonio that year and married Sylvia Tower, daughter of Colonel Milton Tower, U.S. Army. Their son, Stephan Austin Tisdale, was born in 1951.

In September of that year, during a course at the Air Command and Staff School in Montgomery, Alabama, I was called out of class to the telephone. A disaster had occurred. Lieutenant Henry E. Tisdale, Jr. was killed in an air accident over Las Vegas, Nevada on 14 September 1951. Henry was a star man, a superior classmate, a fine, gentle man, and a friend forever.