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Robert Floyd Hennessee arrives to ‘work’ at 9 a.m. nearly every morning.

Sporting his black World War II Fighting 36th Infantry Division cap, lauding the force that led Allied victories on European soil, a plaid button-up shirt and some slacks, “Mr. Floyd,” as he’s affectionately known, scours through a cluster of nuts, bolts and screws at his snug work station at Berkeley’s Habitat for Humanity.

Conveniently, his work desk is at the front of the store next to the drop-off and pick-up station.

"That’s what I like,” he said. “I like to see what stuff comes in."

Mr. Floyd’s eye for novelties is what initially drew him as a regular to the community spot. Nearly five years ago, Habitat asked if he would be interested in volunteering. He hasn’t looked back since.
"I love this job,” he said. “It’s keeping me alive."

Mr. Floyd is a handyman. After completing his tenure with the United States Army, he discovered his passion in woodwork and mechanical tasks. He’s widely popular at Habitat for helping himself to a few 10-cent wooden boards to construct clocks, birdhouses and garbage cans. He then donates the bird homes to Habitat for sale to buying customers.

Mr. Floyd is not your average volunteer, though. A recipient of three prestigious military medals, he was on the frontlines of WWII combat in Europe between 1943 and 1945.

He arrived to Rome in 1944 where he helped lead an invasion into Italy. The division was involved in many other battles and skirmishes. Mr. Floyd recalls those moments in the deadly fray, armed with a sub-machine gun, fighting for life. He does not glamorize it at all.

"You’re in there for business," he said, recalling his combat days. "You do the best you can - You go in there to win."

His Purple Heart and Bronze Star recognize his willingness to put himself under gunfire for freedom. The French Legion of Honor Medal, awarded to him last year, is the highest given by the French for those who fought on the country's soil. On Saturday, the Charleston Battery, along with launching its partnership with Habitat to help fund the Wall Street Community Center, will recognize Mr. Floyd for his years of service and volunteerism at the Berkeley County donation center.
"I’m looking forward to that," he said.

Mr. Floyd did not sugarcoat how he felt about the United States' past attitudes toward veterans. There was no parade that welcomed him back into the country when the war ended in 1945. He said only a single person thanked him for his service at the time. Since then, he added, it took over 60 years for another person to express their appreciation for his sacrifice.

Within the past 10 or so years, though, Mr. Floyd senses a rise in gratefulness from the land of the free.
“It happens all the time,” he said. “You’d be surprised how many free lunches I get.”

Habitat Marketing and Resource Development representative Alex Dixon said the center has numerous veterans willing to volunteer.

"We also have a lot of active-duty [service men and women]," Dixon said. "The Navy comes here every Wednesday to volunteer."

It took Mr. Floyd a while to open up about his service experiences. Having come from a lineage of veterans – a father who fought in the Spanish American War and a grandfather in the Civil War – Mr. Floyd said he and his father rarely talked about combat.

He also avoided accepting speaking engagements where he said schoolchildren could "ask you could questions you can't answer."
“For many years, I didn’t mention [anything],” Mr. Floyd said.

But, as he got involved in veterans organizations and groups, he slowly became comfortable discussing his war years.

Nowadays, Mr. Floyd is a faithful armed forces ambassador. He does not mind telling others about the bravery and courage that he and his comrades displayed.

He annually attends local Berkeley County Veterans’ Day celebrations, and has spoken at local schools, the Medical University of South Carolina, and Trident Technical College.

“I found out I could do it,” he said. “I found out that you can do things that you never thought you could.”

Robert Floyd "Floyd" Hennessee (1925 -

“It’s keeping me alive:” 92-year old war vet finds passion in volunteering

Mr. Robert Floyd Hennessee stands at work station inside Berkeley County's Habitat for Humanity donation center.

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