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Faculty Profiles: Bob Henderson

by The College of Education / Feb 1, 2011

PROFILE: Special Education Professor Emeritus Bob Henderson honored in Korea for Marine Corps Service; Continues His Support of Special Education. At age 17, Bob Henderson pledged "Semper Fidelis" to join the Marine Corp in 1943. Less than a decade later, his duties led him to one of the most pivotal engagements of the Korean War: the battle at the Chosin Reservoir. In service to his country and to those with special needs, now Professor Emeritus Bob Henderson has devoted his life to making a difference.

Photo of Bob Henderson

Sixty-seven years after his pledge, three college degrees, and countless battles on the field and in the classroom later, Henderson returned to Korea November 2010 at the government's invitation to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the battle that ensured South Korea's independence. At the Veteran's Day gala in Seoul, he was one of the remaining "Chosin Few" and received a plaque as "the oldest Marine on the occasion of the 235th Marine Corps Birthday Celebration at U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Korea."

After joining the Marines in high school, Henderson graduated from UC Berkeley and became a high school teacher. Two years later he was promoted to an elementary school principal.

"While I felt fairly confident, based on my Marine training, that I could perform adequately in the regular classroom at elementary or high school levels, I was obviously not able to deal with students with any kind of disability," Henderson said. "And, of course, at that time, there were few special education services available."

By 1950 his frustration led him to earn one of the first MS degrees in special education ever awarded in California. Two months after crossing the stage for his diploma, Henderson returned to military active duty, crossing the high seas for an amphibious landing in Incheon, South Korea. The fateful battle at the Chosin Reservoir was soon to follow.

For the Chosin Commemoration event on Veteran's Day 2010, thousands of U.S. servicemen, Korean Marines and Army personnel filled the U.S. Army's large compound in Seoul. President Obama approached the podium as the featured speaker, thanking the service members for their duty.

After the talk, President Obama came down to shake hands with the one Medal of Honor member of our group, as well as many others, and the soldiers who had stood for hours awaiting his arrival," Henderson said.

The ceremony marked Henderson's second trip back to Korea since the battle at the Chosin Reservoir.

The first was about four years ago when I took three grad students with me to examine the similarities and differences in the Korean v. U.S. delivery of services to students with disabilities."

Henderson says his military experience and career in education have complemented each other.

As an officer candidate in 1944-45, I learned that my duties would be primarily teaching essentials of survival to my platoon. The techniques of lesson planning were essential as much in high school or elementary school as in the Corps."

Following a year of combat in Korea, Henderson's degree in special education proved especially useful to the Marines, as he was ordered to form a new "Special Training Company," which included recruits who needed additional assistance to succeed.

Some were non-English speakers, others were mainly school drop-outs who were functionally illiterate. Then, all draftees who were conscientious objectors were included as part of my responsibilities," Henderson said. "Needless to say, I was able to apply a good bit of my graduate school training."

After his active duty years, Henderson earned a doctorate in special education from the University of Illinois under the direction of Sam Kirk, the "father of special education." Henderson later became a professor at Illinois but still served 90-day assignments for the Marine Corps at various service schools. With his academic experience alongside his military record Henderson ultimately convinced the Marine Corp Command and Staff College in Quantico, VA to enhance their instruction into a seminar, versus lecture format.

Thus, while it was basic officer-training instruction that was valuable to me as a beginning teacher, it was my doctoral training at Illinois that improved the quality of the Corps' senior officer courses," Henderson said.

After more than 40 years of service, Henderson retired in 1993 from the University of Illinois but remains active as an Education Research Consultant for the Collaborative Study of Maternal Phenylketonuria, the Campus Charitable Fund Drive, and some departmental faculty committees, in addition to the local Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots program and as Chair of the Scholarship Fund of the 1st Marine Division Association.

Henderson also continues his support for the University Illinois with a deferred gift of about $750,000 to establish the Robert and June Henderson Endowment Fund to support special education programs in the College of Education. The fund honors the memory of Henderson's wife, June, a social worker involved for many years in child abuse/neglect investigation for the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.