Dutch’s Boy

By Brad Dison

Dutch’s boy was born Henry John Deutschendorf Jr. on New Year’s Eve of 1943 in Roswell, New Mexico.  Dutch, as his men called him because it was easier to pronounce than Deutschendorf, rose to the rank of major in the United States Army Air Force and was squadron commander of the B-58 Hustler bombers.  Dutch set three speed records in his B-58 which earned him a place in the Air Force Hall of Fame.  Dutch’s military career came before anything else.  His unwavering loyalty meant his family moved often.  

As Dutch’s son, people called him Dutch’s boy.  Many of the people who attended school with him, albeit it briefly, described Dutch’s boy as being shy and a loner.  He struggled to fit in at school because his family moved so often.  Dutch and his family lived all over the United States.

Dutch’s boy was usually too shy to ask a girl out on a date.  Finally, he asked a girl out, and, to his amazement, she said yes.  Dutch’s boy arranged to pick up his date later that evening, after Dutch returned home in the 1950 Mercury, the car that Dutch’s boy was allowed to drive.  There was no sign of Dutch as the time drew near for Dutch’s boy to pick up his date.  Dutch’s boy had no choice but to cancel the date, which left him angry and upset.

Several hours passed before Dutch arrived home in a drunken state.  His commanding officer had invited him to “beer call” at the officer’s club, and Dutch, showing unwavering loyalty, eagerly agreed.  Dutch saw no reason to call home to let his family know he would be late.  Dutch’s boy was fuming.

Dutch and his son rarely got along well.  One summer, Dutch bought a ski boat for the family.  Dutch would only ski with his son driving the boat.  He was expected to drive the boat exactly to Dutch’s liking or Dutch would come down hard as if he was one of the men under his command.

On the night of the broken date, Dutch’s boy had no chance to speak with his father.  As soon as his father walked in the door, Dutch’s parents began arguing.  Dutch’s boy had never heard his parents argue before and this was a real humdinger.  The argument was so serious that Dutch’s boy thought his parents would surely divorce.  His broken date seemed less important than it had earlier in the evening.

Not wanting to be the cause of friction between his parents, Dutch’s boy came up with a plan.  He would run away from home.  Dutch’s boy usually worked a part-time job at a store on the weekends.  Early the next morning, while his parents were still asleep, Dutch’s boy loaded some clothes, some school papers, a drawing board, and a guitar into his father’s car.  He called the store and said his family was going to Oklahoma to visit a sick relative.  This would buy him at least eight hours before his family realized he had run away.    

On that Saturday morning, Dutch’s boy left Fort Worth, Texas, and headed for Los Angeles, California, where some of his parents’ old friends, the Harts, lived.  They had visited them several times in California through the years.  His plan was to get a job as a sailor on a boat and start his life anew.  After driving all day, spending the night in Tucson, Arizona, and finally making it into Los Angeles late the following day, Dutch’s boy was unable to find the Harts’ home.  Almost broke, Dutch’s boy spent the night in the car in a grocery store parking lot.

By Monday morning, Dutch’s boy was out of options.  He swallowed his pride and called home.  He did not mention running away but said he was just looking for serious work.  His father asked no questions but Dutch’s boy could tell he was concerned.  Dutch gave him directions to the Harts residence and told him to call when he arrived.  When he called his father from the Harts’ residence, Dutch asked if he would come back home.  Dutch’s boy reluctantly agreed.

Dutch flew to Los Angeles and the two spent some time together before they drove back to Fort Worth.  For the first time, Dutch’s boy realized that his father really cared for him but was unable to express his emotions.  Dutch was the type of man who kept his feelings deep inside.

Although the two continued to have disagreements, Dutch’s boy never ran away from home again.  After high school, Dutch’s boy had a successful career which, like his father, took him all over the world.         

Later in life, Dutch’s boy and his father bonded over a common interest.  They both loved flying.  Early in his career, Dutch’s boy wrote a song about flying, a song which was a number one hit for the folk group Peter, Paul and Mary.  Sadly, flying would end Dutch’s boy’s life.  On October 12, 1997, Dutch’s boy died when the experimental aircraft in which he was flying crashed.  His ashes were scattered high up in the Rocky Mountains.  He wrote a song about the Rocky Mountains too.  Some of his best-known songs include “Leaving on a Jet Plane”, “Rocky Mountain High”, “Annie’s Song”, and many others.  The world knows Dutch’s boy, Henry John Deutschendorf Jr., as… John Denver.

Source: Denver, John. Take Me Home. New York: Harmony Books, 1994.