Henry George Dettmar – Colonel, United States Army

Henry G. Dettmar, 89, an Army Colonel who survived the attack on Pearl Harbor and was part of the contingency planning for an invasion of Cuba during the missile crisis of 1962, died of complications from Parkinson's disease at Powhatan Nursing Home in Falls Church on May 17,  2008, Armed Forces Day.

Colonel Dettmar served more than 30 years in the Army, enlisting in 1939. He was assigned to Hickam Field, adjacent to Pearl Harbor, where he was a mechanic with the Army Air Corps. On the morning of December 7, 1941, he went to church, had breakfast and reported to the hangar, awaiting some B-17s from the mainland.

“We noticed, just before 8 a.m., this big flight of planes coming in from the sea. They looked like the Navy's,” he told The Washington Post in 1984. “Then they peeled off. The first I saw came in very low, and I could see the Japanese emblem on it. We knew then we were in trouble and everything started blowing up at once.”

Two of the squadron's hangars were destroyed, and then-Private. Dettmar spent the majority of the attack in a bomb crater, feeding ammunition to a Sergeant with a 50-caliber machine gun.

He was promoted to sergeant and remained at Hickam for 10 more months, then entered Officer Candidate School. After the war, he served throughout the United States and in Korea.

“Our enemies in the world today are many and powerful,” Colonel Dettmar said in 1984. “Terrorists are everywhere and difficult to combat. It is a big price to pay to be awakened by a major catastrophe as we were at Pearl Harbor.”

The Philadelphia native had graduated only from high school when he enlisted, so throughout his Army career, he worked on a college degree by correspondence.

He was about to take his final exams at the University of Maryland in October 1962 when he had to tell his professors that he could not appear but could not tell them why. He was working for the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon and was sworn to secrecy about the 24-hour duty to which he was assigned. While the Cuban missile crisis played out, his job was to help plan an invasion, if one became necessary.

After the crisis was resolved peacefully, Colonel Dettmar “was able to put stress in perspective,” his family said, and passed his final exams.

Colonel Dettmar retired from the Army in 1970 and worked for what was then known as the Atomic Energy Commission as director of logistics and procurement, retiring again in 1981 to start a consulting business, which he operated until the late 1980s. Among his clients was the Navajo tribe of Arizona.

An avid outdoorsman, Colonel Dettmar was active in the Boy Scouts of America throughout his life and was awarded its Scouter's Key, Silver Beaver and James E. West awards.

He also coached Little League baseball, volunteered at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington County and Meals on Wheels, shot pool and played golf.

His wife of 61 years, Mary Dettmar, died in 2005. A daughter, Diane Dowd, died in 2004.

Survivors include five children, Vicki Rutson of Alexandria, Joe Dettmar, Steve Dettmar and Chris Dettmar, all of Fairfax County, and Ted Dettmar of Arlington; seven grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

DETTMAR HENRY G. DETTMAR Colonel, U.S. Army (Retired) On Saturday, May 17, 2008 (Armed Forces Day), Colonel Henry George Dettmar, a career soldier and survivor of the attack on Pearl Harbor passed away at the age of 89. He was preceded in death by his beloved wife of 61 years, Mary, in 2005, and his daughter Diane, in 2004. He is survived by his daughter, Vicki Rutson; his sons, Joe, Steve, Chris and Ted; daughters-in-law, Cathy and Rita; sons-in-law, Larry Dowd and Keith Rutson; seven grandchildren, two great-grand children and a great number of family, friends and admirers.

On Friday, July 25, 2008, Mass of Christian Burial will be held at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More, 3901 Cathedral Lane, Arlington Virginia, followed by interment with Full Military Honors at Arlington National Cemetery.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Pearl Harbor Memorial Fund, P.O. Box 29940, Honolulu Hawaii 96820-2340 or to the Boy Scouts of America, National Capital Area Council, BSA, 9190 Rockville Pike, Bethesda Maryland 20811.


  • DATE OF BIRTH: 04/01/1921
  • DATE OF DEATH: 01/09/2005

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