BREWER, Maine — Edward Hendrickson was a naval dive bomber during World War II who once shot down an enemy plane, and nowadays can be found bombing down area snow mountains.
Well, at age 89, he isn’t exactly bombing down the mountain like a teenager with no regard anymore.
“I don’t go like a speed demon,” the Brewer resident said Tuesday. “I go kind of poky.”
Hendrickson was born at home in Brewer on Nov. 14, 1920. As he sat this week in his living room filled with memorabilia of his years in the U.S. Navy Air Corps during War War II, he said he has been skiing since he was a teenager. A pair of ski poles leaned against the wall near the front door of his condominium.
“I went down Hermon Mountain [Monday] and got a few runs in,” he said. “I’ll be up at Mars Hill next week” to ski at Big Rock Ski Area.
Hendrickson has a season ski pass for Sugarloaf USA in Carrabassett Valley, which also allows him to ski as much as he wants at Sunday River in Bethel and Loon Mountain in New Hampshire.
He and Effie, his wife of 62 years who died in 2007, instilled their love of skiing in their two children. Eric Hendrickson, of Presque Isle, teaches chemistry and skiing at the high school, and his daughter, Ellen Hendrickson, is a lawyer in Phoenix and a competitive alpine masters skier.
“We started the kids when they were little tots,” he said.
Every time Hendrickson visits his 55-year-old daughter in Arizona, the two head up to Park City Mountain Resort in Park City, Utah.
“She was racing there yesterday and the day before,” he said Tuesday.
Hendrickson entered the Navy on May 23, 1942, two years before meeting his future wife, who was the sister of one of his Brewer High classmates.
When he was still learning to fly and how to be a dive bomber, Hendrickson crashed a Douglas SBD Dauntless into Lake Michigan, Fla., on Nov. 23, 1943, while attempting to land aboard the aircraft carrier the USS Wolverine.
“I tried three times to come in and I was always going too fast,” he said. “On my last try, [the signal man] gave me a cut [sign], which means you must cut your engine.”
The plane skimmed the surface of the flight deck, hit the catwalk and flipped over, sending the pilot and craft into the murky lake waters.
“The water was cold,” Hendrickson said. “I was caught on something in the plane and I just got out. I was quite fortunate.”
By the time Hendrickson was pulled from the water his plane had sunk 130 feet to the bottom of the lake.
Amazingly, his Dauntless, and two other rare World War II-era Navy planes, were brought to the surface in the 1990s and restored, and are now on display at the National Museum of Naval Aviation in Pensacola, Fla.
After he graduated from flight school, his squadron headed to the Pacific to fight in the war aboard the USS Ticonderoga. While on a routine flight on Nov. 11, 1944, Hendrickson noticed a Japanese plane watching the fleet and immediately went into action.
“I shot at the guy and I could see my bullets hit and explode,” he said, quietly describing the aerial fight scene. “The plane caught fire and it went into the ocean.”
A camera mounted on his plane caught the battle in a reel of grainy still shots that shows smoke and fire escaping the engine area of his enemy’s plane.
“Two or three days later I was repaid,” he said. “An anti-aircraft shell hit my plane and it blew a [2-foot] hole in my right wing.”
The shell struck only about a foot from his body, Hendrickson said.
Without landing gear on one side, “I had to crash-land that plane,” he said. “They took the gun camera off and they threw that plane overboard.”
Hendrickson met his wife, who had just graduated with a nursing degree from the University of Maine, when he returned to Brewer on a 30-day leave from his base in California. They married on June 20, 1945.
After the war, the young couple worked in the Boston area, but soon returned to Maine so Hendrickson could attend Gorham State Teachers College (now the University of Southern Maine), where he graduated in 1949. They moved to East Millinocket, where Hendrickson taught industrial arts at Schenck High School for 12 years, while his wife was a mill nurse. He also worked a short while at the Great Northern Paper mill before the couple moved to Presque Isle in 1966 when he was appointed dean of students at Northern Maine Vocational Technical Institute. His wife became a nursing instructor at the institute.
The couple retired in 1983 and for years split their time between Maine and Florida, all the while skiing whenever possible. Hendrickson said he took a decadelong break when his wife got too sick to ski and he didn’t want to go without her.
“I started skiing” again the year she died,” he said. “This will be my third year.”
It’s important to have proper equipment when heading out to ski, Hendrickson said, grabbing a brown knit hat that looks like a puppy dog with floppy ears, a patch over one of its eyes and red nose.
“I wear this everywhere,” he said.