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Three Generations of Trailblazers

Three Generations of Trailblazers

Volume 6 Issue 1 Spring-Summer 2019
By Madison Monroe, Editor

~ Johann (1895 - 1943) ~

Ohe ominous cloud of war and revolution darkened as Stalin began his assent to power. Headless bodies lay in the streets as visual warnings to the passers-by. The Russian brutality and political unrest of the early 1900’s precipitated a mass migration of Russia’s German population to the United States. In 1913, eighteen year old Johann Heinrich Deutschendorf joined the exodus. By the 1940’s, those left in Russia were either chased from their homes, killed or assigned to concentration camps and held there until the 1970’s.

Ellis Island

At the turn of the century, America received 2-1/2 million Russian immigrants. Our land was full of opportunity. As young Johann endured the 16 week passage by sea, news of the Oklahoma land rush ignited within him hope for a better future. The promise of land ownership and belonging fueled his resolve as he journeyed from Ellis Island to Oklahoma. Unfortunately, by the time Johann made it to Oklahoma, all of the free land had been claimed, so he rented his farmland and settled in Korn, Oklahoma.

There, he found a community of German Russian immigrants who shared a common experience and his Mennonite faith. Four years later, Johann married his neighbor and began a family. His first of twelve children was a son. He followed German tradition and named him Henry John, reversing his own first and middle name, but adopted his new country’s pronunciation and spelling. He raised his oldest son, Henry, in the strict tenets and traditions of the Mennonites… above all, pacifism and church service.

Henry (1920 - 1982) ~

World Record-setting flight crew (US Air Force)

Completing only three years of high school, 19 year old Henry worked as an assistant janitor at the local public school. World War II was underway in Europe and on November 30, 1940, 

Henry John Deutschendorf, defying his faith and father’s wishes, enlisted as a private in the U.S. Army. Not long after his enlistment, he married a Tulsa girl. In October of 1943, as they anxiously awaited the birth of Henry Duetschendorf their first child, his father, with wife and son Johann, unexpectedly died at the age of 48. Two months later, Henry welcomed his new son into the world. Breaking with German and family tradition, Henry legally named him Henry John Deutschendorf, Jr., but called him John, after his father. 

Corvair B-58 Hustler

Although Henry initially joined the Army, he had a lifelong love of airplanes. As a child, he had seen them flying over the open 

landscape of his native Oklahoma and witnessed the evolution of technology. The cloth covered, bi-winged planes of his youth had developed into larger, metal covered, one winged planes with improved engines allowing higher and faster flight.

So when Henry re-enlisted in the Armed Forces, he did so as an Air Force pilot. He was a natural. In fact, he was so gifted that he spent most of World War II as a flight instructor on B-17’s and B-29’s. After WWII ended, he continued his military career. He fought as a bomber pilot in both the Korean and Vietnam Wars. It was during the Vietnam war that Henry would secure a place in the record books. On January 12, 1961, Major Henry Deutschendorf set a world record. On that date, he flew a Convair B-58 Hustler named Untouchable on two laps between Edwards Air Force Base and Yuma Air Force Base averaging a speed of 1,061.81 miles per hour, establishing six new FAI speed records. He and his crew were each awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. 

Although Henry rebelled against his father by joining the military, he thrived in the structured world of the Armed Forces. He embraced the strict rules and regulations that were requisite for promotion. Being raised a strict Mennonite, he understood the necessity of order and sacrifice. He was elevated in rank to Lieutenant Colonel.

John (1943 - 1997) ~

Henry Duetschendorf with wife and sonJohn, Henry's son, detested the rigidness of military life and its transient lifestyle. His father’s military career had moved the family from Oklahoma to Arizona to Alabama to Texas. Always the new kid, John found solace  in music. Like his father, John left home after his third year of high school. When Henry discovered John had run away to California, he borrowed a friend’s jet and flew to the Pacific coast. There, he collected his son and returned to Texas, demanding that John finish high school.

Henry passed along his love of flying to his son. John developed an interest in space exploration and applied to be an astronaut. His application was rejected. Upon high school graduation, John left home again. Yearning for freedom from the rules imposed by his father and his faith, John began to search for a more sensitive outlet of expression.

The John Denver Sanctuary

In 1970, John moved to Colorado, changed his last name and pursued a music career. He was among the first humanitarian, sustainability and conservation activists. He wrote “Leaving on a Jet Plane” as a tribute to his and his father’s shared love of flying. Like Johann before them, they both died relatively young. Henry died of a heart attack at 61 and John from a single-fatality aircraft crash at age 53. They were both inducted into a Hall of Fame in their respective fields. Henry is in the Oklahoma Aviation Hall of Fame and John in the Grammy Hall of Fame.

This grandson of an immigrant and son of a United States Lieutenant Colonel released 25 albums. Had Johann Deutschendorf not fled Russia when he did, the world might never have known the music of John Denver. brave flag


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