If you’ve been to the Fort Leonard Wood USO center recently, you’ve probably seen Henry Edmon.
A familiar face to new recruits and longtime area residents, the Sudbury, Ontario, native has proudly volunteered at the USO every Thursday through Sunday, which are the days the center is open, for the past five years — minus the two days he took off to attend his daughter’s wedding in May 2013.
“Everyone here at the USO thought it was funny he would worry about missing his shift for his daughter’s wedding,” wrote USO Fort Leonard Wood Center Director Kelly Gist in an email. “But that just goes to show you the level of commitment he has to the USO. [He] loves all that we do here, we are his extended family, but we sure weren’t going to let him miss his daughter’s wedding.”
According to his daughter, Janis Edmon, her wedding wasn’t the first time Henry has worried about missing his volunteer shift for a special occasion. When Janis visits Henry, he always tells her that he’ll still be volunteering at the USO, and she is welcome to join him.
“When I used to come home for Christmas, Easter and everything, we were at the USO,” Janis said.
“He loves working there and he always wants to make sure that, you know, he’s dependable and there for them, and it’s awesome, because it’s like a little family. So, he likes going there, and I like him going there.”
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A Canadian and American Army veteran of three and 23 years, respectively, Henry began volunteering at the USO center in central Missouri after he retired.
“I will always remember the help that the USO was to me during the Vietnam War,” Henry wrote in an email. “It was the least I could do to give back to an organization that helped me so much.”
According to Gist, Henry takes the USO’s spirit-lifting mission to heart, making him a popular guy on base.
“Just to see that every day, the compassion he has, the loyalty … we wish there was more like him,” Gist said.
Henry especially enjoys chatting with new recruits going through basic training. He frequently shares his military experiences with young soldiers to both encourage them and ensure them they’re not alone.
“These soldiers are learning from our volunteers, and him especially,” Gist said. “When you have a solider just come in from basic and he might be sitting there wondering, ‘Am I going to make it through the next few weeks?’ And [then] Henry comes up and says, ‘It’s okay. You’ll make it.’ They really take that to heart.”
Those heart-to-heart interactions have led some troops to seek Henry out when they return to Fort Leonard Wood years later.
“It’s really neat to see them come back around and they remember him,” Gist said. “You can just tell they have a love for him and it’s really neat to see that.”
Henry says he hopes troops he serves will pay the encouragement forward.
“Maybe, one day, when they have the time to give back, they will remember what we did here, just as I remembered the impact the USO [had] on me,” he said.