Born in Turner County, Georgia, in 1905, Henry T. Elrod attended the University of Georgia and Yale University before enlisting in the United States Marine Corps in 1927. He was commissioned a second lieutenant in 1931 and received the gold wings of a Marine pilot in 1935. Assigned to Naval Air Station North Island San Diego, he served there until January, 1941, when he was transferred to the Hawaiian area. One of twelve pilots who flew F4F Wildcats onto Wake Island only days before hostilities began, Elrod died defending the island on December 23, 1941. One of the first Georgia soldiers to fall in World War II combat, he repeatedly displayed conspicuous courage and gallantry at the risk of his life, above and beyond the call of duty. On December 12, Major Elrod single-handedly attacked a flight of twenty-two enemy planes and shot down two. He executed low-altitude bombing and strafing runs on enemy ships and became the first pilot to sink a major warship from a fighter aircraft. When his plane was disabled by hostile fire, he crash landed on the beach. He later organized a unit of ground troops into a gun-emplacement defense, where he repulsed repeated Japanese attacks until he fell, mortally wounded. The citation for the Medal of Honor, awarded posthumously to Major Elrod in 1946, read in part: "his superb skill as a pilot, daring leadership and unswerving devotion to duty distinguished him among the defenders of Wake Island".
His other decorations and honors include the Purple Heart, Presidential Unit Citation with one Bronze Star, American Defense Service Medal and Base Clasp, Expeditionary Medal with Wake Island Clasp and silver "W," Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with one Bronze Star, and World War II Victory Medal. The propeller of Major Elrod's plane is in the Marine Air Museum at Quantico, Virginia, where a street is named in his honor. The cowling of the plane he flew on the day he sank the Japanese cruiser is in the Smithsonian Institution, In July, 1985, the USS Elrod (FFG55), a guided missile frigate, was commissioned in Brunswick, Georgia. Major Elrod was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. He was enshrined into the Georgia Aviation Hall of Fame in 1995.