Henry Lemay served his country by fighting abroad, but served his neighbors with a strong voice that his wife says carried itself to the ears of listeners.
Mr. Lemay, a Fresno resident, sang until he died on Nov. 30. He was 83.
“In my congressional district, if a veterans’ event is planned, it is well known Henry will be on the agenda, rocking the audience with the ‘National Anthem’ or ‘God Bless America,’ ” Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, said in a Nov. 15 statement in the Congressional Record.
Costa honored Mr. Lemay during the 2016 Veterans Day Parade with a framed copy of that statement he would make at the U.S. Capitol, noting Mr. Lemay’s service in the Army during the Korean War and his community involvement.
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Mr. Lemay received the Purple Heart and Bronze Star. Costa said Mr. Lemay made an “immeasurable” impact in the Fresno veterans community.
Richard Morrison, 80, who is commander of the 5057 Veterans of Foreign Wars Post in Fresno, said Mr. Lemay was always involved in veteran events around Fresno. Morrison, a Vietnam War veteran, met Mr. Lemay in 2007.
Morrison believes Mr. Lemay sang at around two to three dozen events a year. Morrison heard him perform at the Veterans Day Parades, Memorial Day events, and at funerals, Pearl Harbor and POW-MIA service events. Mr. Lemay was co-chairman of the Memorial Day event planning committee.
Morrison said Mr. Lemay made it out to events despite visible pain, the result of wartime injuries. “When you are a veteran, you can tell when a veteran is in pain,” he said. Mr. Lemay never complained and always shared his military service experiences, Morrison said.
With his singing, Lemay could hit high notes and the low ones, too. Listeners could make out every sound. He was Morrison’s favorite to sing the “Star-Spangled Banner.”
“Anything that man sang, there was just a certain ring to the way he sang,” Morrison said.
Mr. Lemay was commander of the 884 Legion of Valor Post for a few years until Morrison came to Fresno from Madera He had joined Morrison’s post as a member and continued volunteering at other veteran organizations. One of the last times Morrison saw Lemay was at the Veterans Day Parade.
“I had a lot of respect for Henry Lemay,” Morrison said.
Singing on a dare
Mr. Lemay’s wife, Carol, said her husband started singing on a dare 60 years ago around a campfire when he was in the Army. A radio talent show offered a chance for him to call in and flex his vocal muscles.
When he returned home after his discharge from the Army, he joined community theater in Fresno, where he continued to sing.
More recently, his voice was the sound at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services naturalization events, and it was the sound many heard at memorials for fallen soldiers.
“He sang the songs the way they were meant to be sung,” Carol Lemay said. “That’s what people told me.”
Mr. Lemay was born in Arkansas in the midst of the Great Depression, one of nine children of Haywood and Rosie Mae Lemay, who were sharecroppers. In 1948, the family moved from Arkansas to Fresno, where they built a house from the ground up.
Mr. Lemay joined the Army out of Edison High School and was sent to fight in the Korean War in January 1952. Almost one year later, in the midst of a fierce battle, he was peppered with shrapnel from his ankles to his lower back. He was hospitalized in Japan before returning to Fresno and being honorably discharged as a corporal in 1954.
When Mr. Lemay returned from war, he hoped the GI Bill could help him go to college. He studied at Fresno City College, and earned a degree in 1960 at Long Beach City College. Mr. Lemay spent 30 years working as an engineer for the Fresno VA Hospital. He also was a carpenter.
After retirement in 1978, Mr. Lemay continued attending community events that honored veterans like him.
“If he gave you his word, he was there,” Carol said.
In 1994, Mr. Lemay became an active volunteer with the Veterans of Foreign Wars Honor Guard. He also joined in with volunteer groups such as AMVETS, the Disabled American Veterans and the American Legion.
Invitations came for him to sing at events despite his wife’s worries. Carol said a calendar he kept with upcoming events looked like a checkers board and she always helped him rest and get ready for the next occasion.
“He would take out his calendar and see if he could fit them in,” Carol said.
He earned the 2016 Citizen Soldier award during an event at Fresno City College on Nov. 4.
Mr. Lemay was a member of two churches – Believer’s Christian Center of Fresno, where he was an associate pastor, and the Body Church of Fresno. He also recorded about four CDs of his own songs, one of which was done with his wife.
“He gave it his all,” Carol said. “He was a war veteran, after all.”
A memorial fund to cover funeral expenses has been set up. Anyone who wishes to contribute to the Henry Lemay Memorial Fund can donate at any branch of Wells Fargo Bank.
Born: March 18, 1933, in Arkansas
Died: Nov. 30, 2016
Occupation: Retired VA Hospital engineer and Korean War veteran
Survivors: Wife, Carol Lemay; brother, Daniel Haywood Lemay; sisters Laura Lemay and Rose Jackson; and many nieces and nephews.
Services: 10 a.m. Saturday at Jesse E. Cooley Funeral Home, 1830 S. Fruit Ave. Burial will follow at Fresno Memorial Gardens, 175 S. Cornelia Ave.