Frank Sherman Henry

By Dave Thornton


General Frank Sherman Henry on his 1948 Olympic Gold Medal ride.










America has long looked to the small town to nurture greatness in its citizens. Like pure water from the mountains, young talent flows steadily from the protected environments of America's rural communities. There, where the ideals of the Republic are yet nourished, the excitement is not so great as to discourage a young man or woman from setting forth into the larger world.

Frank Sherman Henry was such a small-town boy. He was born and raised on East Main St. in Cambridge, NY, a Village of 2,000 inhabitants nestled among the foothills of the Green Mountains in the picturesque valley of the Owl's Kill.

His parents were middle class, his father a store-keeper and active in Republican politics.

Nonetheless, the small-town boy grew up to be a United States cavalry officer in the classic mould, who set an Olympic riding record that stands to this day.

Frank Sherman Henry was born in 1909 at 99 East Main St., in a house presently owned by the Nolan family. The Henrys lived in an apartment.

Later, they bought as the family home at 95 East Main. Sherman, an only son, retained possession of the house and store until in the late 1970s.


Sherman's father was John Henry, who, with the help of Ted Williams Sr., ran "John Henry's Store", a double storehouse of general merchandise on the first floor of Hubbard's Hall.

Significant for the community, in Hubbard's Hall, the Henrys passed along one of the finest examples in existence of a 19th century performance hall.

Also significant, Sherman retained the Henry horse track immediately north of 95 East Main. Late in his life, he placed this under the stewardship of a group of local men, with the stipulation that the land be preserved forever as a recreation area for the Village children.

That area has been developed into a modern complex of playing fields and courts. A new generation of village volunteers, the Cambridge Valley Athletic Assoc., now superintends it.

On Monday, May 31, as a part of the annual American Legion memorial service, that complex was be dedicated to its founder, the late Frank Sherman Henry: Scholar, Horseman, Olympic Athlete and Brigadier General of the US Army.

In childhood, "Sherm" paled around with the other kids on East Main. One chum, the late Gardner Cullinan, lived a few doors east of the Henrys. He was in his 80's when this writer interviewed him; but his memories of Sherman are vivid.

Like Sherman, Gardner served his country in World War II. But unlike him, Cullinan returned to Village life. Here in the Owl's Kill Valley, Gardner published the Washington County Post, until its demise, the oldest weekly in America; and got himself elected to just about every post there was in local politics.

There wasn't much in the way of recreational facilities on East Main in those days. There was the track, but few of the "East End Gang" besides Henry had a horse.

There were some ramshackle buildings on Division St., where the Gang would go to play "war" with "B-B" guns.

Behind the Cullinan house was a large barn. There Gardner and the neighborhood boys established a gymnasium where they could work out. There was a boxing ring and punching bag, weights, a trapese and a climbing rope.


In those days, little Cambridge High School was famous for its great football teams. Many of these players congregated at Cullinan's barn. Of course, one of them was Sherman Henry.

Frank Sherman Henry died in 1989, his body returned to Cambridge with full military honors. Most of the East End Gang preceded him in death. Gone are friends Lewis Buckley, Jimmy Frazier, Don Weir and Jimmy Duddy.

Gone is the talented John Galloway, CHS and Colgate University football star, who was also a frequent visitor to "Cullinan's gym Only Gardner, four years his junior, remained to tell the tale of the young Sherman Henry.

Sherman would work out at the "gym" and engage in the B-B gun fights. Dr. Hiney, the dentist, owned some abandoned and dilapidated buildings on Division St. The boys went there, chose up sides and banged away at one another, until one day a visiting lad amost lost an eye.

That was Sherman's first taste of "war", Cullinan observed.

It was also what passed as recreation on Division St. in those days. The lack of a place for him and his friends to play in safety may explain Sherman Henry's determination to provide a proper facility for later generations.

"Sherm" was a small, wirey lad, who was quick, intelligent and mischievous. Friend Gardner lost the seat from his best pair of knickers to a well-thrown Sherman Henry fire-cracker.

For a reason even Gardner himself never understood, Sherman nick-named him "Pete". "Sherm" ostensibly made amends by presenting "Pete" with a Christmas gift.

Candy was hard to come by in those days, Cullinan recalled. He spent several days before Christmas admiring the present Sherman had given him, convinced it was a box of chocolates.

But it turned out to be a "gag', a book that no red-blooded boy of that era would have been caught dead possessing, much less reading: "The Bobbsey Twins Out West".

The future Olympian didn't hang out with the "East End Gang" that much.

"I wouldn't call him a loner," Gardner said. But Sherman had a horse named "Pearl", and she was his best pal. As few of the Gang had a horse, Sherman spent many childhood hours alone riding "Pearl".

The seeds of his future greatness were evidently sewn on those lonely rides through the community and over the very grounds that were dedicated to the memory of Sherman Henry.


"Sherm" at 16 was too young and too light to be much of a factor on such "crack" teams as CHS turned out in those days, but he did substitute on some of the greatest football teams in the history of Old Cambridge.

He and Charles Raymond, another future West Pointer, were subbing on the high school teams as early as 1923. Both would have illustrious military careers.

In 1923, when "Sherm" was only 14 years old, he played alongside such immortals of the local gridiron as Emerson McLenithan, John Maloy, William Robertson, Tom Tellier, Nick Canzeri, Frank Frazier, Forrest Coulter and the "Galloping Ghost", John Galloway.

His father, John Shields Henry, was president of the school board in those days.

The only loss for the 1923 team was the last game, to Albany High School for the championship of the Northeast, the highest you could go in competition in those days.

In 1924, Sherman Henry subbed on the CHS team that won their first title as "Champions of the World", defeating Albany High 20-0. But that title was sullied, as the team had a loss --- inexplicably --- to Troy High the week before.


"Sherm" was back for his final year at Cambridge High School in 1925, the year that the Cambridge team got just about as good as a team can get.

With Sherman Henry and Charles Raymond providing "bench depth", Cambridge rolled up victory after victory. "Sherm" and Charles would go in when a regular was injured or needed a "breather", and when the game was "on ice".

In the Saratoga game, which Cambridge won 26-0, both Charles and Sherman saw playing time in the line, Charles for Martin Church ---who was one of the largest linemen in America at the time --- and Sherman for William Robertson.

That November, Cambridge won its fourth consecutive Northern League championship with a 34-0 wash of Whitehall.

By seasons end, when they again defeated Albany High for the championship of the Northeast, the Cambridge country boys had out-scored their opponents an incredible 302-8.

It was an exploit never even approached by a CHS squad until the State "C" Championship team of 1992.

Sherman Henry was "game", but football wasn't his sport. His father's love of horses rubbed off on him. John Henry maintained a trotting track that encompassed what is today the youth recreation complex. He always had an outstanding horse in his stable.

As a young girl, Connie Cullinan, wife of Gardner, took many a tour of the track in the sulky, exercising a Henry favorite.

Connie recalled that one of John Henry's best trotters was J.T. Barnes, who could turn a mile in just over two minutes. This was right up there with the "big time" in those days.

Gardner recalled that John Henry was offered $30,000 for the horse, more than $300,000 in modern money, but he turned it down. He loved the horse too much.

John Henry's love of horses was passed down to his son. Sherman accelerated through Cambridge High School, finishing in three years at the age of 16. He had long decided upon a career in the US Cavalry, but the appointment to West Point was delayed.

John Henry was deeply involved in county politics. He served as a county Republican committeeman, in the days when the Republican Party "owned" Washington County.

John Henry served alongside two other locals, Malcolm Parrish and William Robertson. Parrish was for many years County Treasurer. Both John Henry and Robertson served terms as County Sheriff. This was in the days when the office of Sheriff was a "political plum". The Under Sheriff ran the Dept. Neither Henry, as shop-keeper, nor Robertson as barber, had to give up his vocation in order to fill the post, much less engage in law enforcement.


With his father so active in politics, the appointment to the US Military Academy at West Point would come, however slowly.

After graduating from CHS, Sherman spent a year at New York Military Academy. Then he studied civil engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

Others might have lost hope, but in Sherman Henry, the urge toward a military life was in the blood. His mother, a Sherman, was descended from Hon. Samuel Sherman of Connecticut and Gov. William Bradford of the Mayflower.

His grandfather on the Henry side was a Civil War soldier, Corporal James Alexander Henry, who served in Co. E of the 123rd

New York Volunteer Infantry.

This was the famed Washington County Regiment, one of the few regiments to be recruited from a single county and kept "pure" throughout the war by home-town recruiting.

The 123rd fought valiantly in defeat at Chancellorsville, then marched in bloody triumph with Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman through the heart of the Southland to besiege and capture the city of Atlanta.

The West Point appointment came in 1929. Sherman graduated with the class of 1933. He was 33rd in a class of 347 and elected to Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society.

Just as he had dreamed while a boy on East Main St., Lt. Henry was commissioned into the US Cavalry. He was assigned to the 3rd Regt. at Ft. Myer, Virginia. There in off-duty time he participated in the many equestrian events that took place in nearby Virginia and Maryland.

It was soon evident to all that Sherman Henry was uncommonly talented. His riding ability brought him great success in show jumping during his four years there.

It was while stationed at Ft. Myer that he met and married Nell Elizabeth Archer in 1935.

In 1939, Sherman Henry graduated from the Advanced Equitation Course at the Cavalry School, Ft. Riley, Kansas and joined the US Army Equestrian Team that was training for the 1940 Olympic Games.

But World War II interrupted those plans. The games were cancelled and the team dissolved.

When war replaced the 1940 games, Sherman Henry became an equitation instructor at the Cavalry School. It is a signal of his brilliance that each time he graduated from a military school, Henry was kept there to instruct others.

It was at Ft. Riley, in 1941, that the Henry's only child, Joan Henry Gooding, was born.

[Author’s note: Mrs. Gooding is the source of much of the date on Sherman Henry’s career and adult life.]

In 1942, Henry graduated from the Command and General Staff School, Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, and was assigned there as a faculty member.

With the war in full swing, Henry was ordered to the Operations Division of the War Dept. General Staff. He soon became an Army member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff War Plans Committee.

In 1945, he was assigned to the headquarters of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, first in Manilla and later in Tokyo.

His Pacific tour was cut short in late 1946, when Henry was again assigned to Ft. Riley, Kansas. He began training for the 1948 Olympic Games, the first to be held since the infamous 1936 Munich Games.


Henry made the United States Equestrian Team, which in 1947 moved to Munich, Germany to train. The 1948 Olympics were to be held in England.

In those Games, the Old Cambridge boy, Sherman Henry, won three medals, one Gold and two Silvers. The Gold was the first place medal won by the US team. Henry also won an individual Silver in the Three Day Event and a team Silver in Grand Prix Dressage.

To have earned three medals in the equestrian events of a single Olympiad established a record that has been equaled once, by Gen. Humberto Mariles, a noted Mexican rider competing in the same Olympics. (As of 1996, the record had not been broken.)

Like many another great athlete, Sherman Henry sacrificed his prime years to the war.

At the cancelled 1940 games, he would have competed at age 31. For the 1944 games, he would have been 35. At the 1948 Olympics, where he earned three medals, he was 39 years old! One may only speculate at the scope of the Henry legend, had he competed at those cancelled games.

After the Olympics, Henry was assigned to West Germany, where he became chief of plans, Headquarters, US Constabulary and its successor, Headquarters, 7th Army.

Succeeding assignments were as chief of staff, 1st Armored Div.; graduate of the War College, class of 1953; staff planner, HQ, Continental Army Command; Army attache and later chief, Military Assistance Advisory Group, Baghdad, Iraq.

Following a tour at the Pentagon as Chief of Armor in the Officer Personnel Section, Henry went to Korea as Asst. Commander and briefly as Commander, 7th Infantry Div.

His final assignment was as Chief of Staff, III Corps at Ft. Hood, Texas. He retired from the Army there in August, 1963.

His decorations include the Legion of Merit with Oak Leaf Cluster and the Korean Order of Service Merit 3rd Class.

After retirement, the Henrys moved to Virginia. Although too old to compete, his continuing love for horses manifested in Sherman's role as a judge for the American Horse Show Association.

After seven years, the Henrys moved to Florida. There Sherman joined Sertoma International and worked with children in need of help.

In 1979 the Henrys moved to St. Louis, Mo. to live near daughter Joan and her three children. Ten years later, Frank Sherman Henry's body was laid to rest in Woodlands Cemetery, on a hill over-looking East Main St., where his quest for individual greatness had begun.

There is room in the Henry legend for the handful of Village men who built the youth recreation complex on the old Henry trotting track. According to his attorney in those times, John Briggs, it was Sherman Henry's desire that the trotting track become a permanent youth recreation field.

There were a few men raising families in the Village at that time who also dreamed of such a use for the land. Henry sold them the field on favorable terms.

These were "blue collar", working fathers, with not a lot of cash to spare. It was hard for them to raise the money, but they did it. And they have shepherded the field all these years, only recently passing the legacy and the responsibility to a younger generation.

The pioneering efforts of those early community volunteers rightfully belong in the Henry story.


As for Sherman Henry, his legacy to this community is his life, as a role model. Sherman Henry's life reveals most clearly that growing up in a small town can assuredly be an excuse for failure; but it is certainly not a barrier to greatness.



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