Thomas Bennett was an all-American boy. He grew up in a small town (Morgantown, W.Va.), was in the Boy Scouts and was raised with a strong Christian faith and ideals.
By the time he graduated from Morgantown High School and was attending West Virginia University in 1966-67, the Vietnam War was in full swing. Bennett held to his convictions and tried his best to live a life of peace and to be involved in his school, his church and his community.
While at WVU, he led the Student Code Committee and often moderated discussions between students and local residents about a wide range of current events and topics — including Appalachian poverty, civil rights and, of course, the Vietnam War.
He was a Sunday school teacher at his church and was president of the Campus Ecumenical Council and organized worship services at the residential complex that was later to be named in his honor.
Based on his Christian beliefs, Bennett “vehemently” opposed the Vietnam War.
Those beliefs were tested in 1968 when he, like many other young men of his generation, was drafted into the military.
He became a conscientious objector and because he didn’t want to carry a gun, he became a medic.
He was sent to Vietnam and was assigned to Company B (2nd Platoon) of the 1st Battalion of the 14 Regiment of the 4th Infantry Division in the Central Highlands of Vietnam.
He wrote home, stating, “while working for any change, I will continue to serve my country ... there is plenty of hope for changes and for America. I’ll stick with her.”
From Feb. 9-11, 1969, the 1/14th (the Golden Dragons battalion), was engaged in a reconnaissance-in-force mission in the Chu Pa Mountain region and encountered North Vietnamese forces.
During an ambush, several soldiers were wounded and according to a commendation report, Bennett “ran though the heavy fire to his fallen comrades, administered life-saving first aid under fire and then made repeated trips carrying the wounded men to positions of relative safety.”
He exposed himself to enemy fire helping retrieve bodies and aided wounded men throughout the night and following day. On Feb. 11, Bennett ran to the aid of his fellow soldiers of Company B, who were assaulting an enemy position. While trying to get to a friend who was in an “impossible position,” he was mortally wounded at the age of 21.
In April 1970, Bennett was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.
“Cpl. Bennett’s undaunted concern for his comrades at the cost of his live above and beyond the call of duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect upon himself, his unit and the U.S. Army,” his commendation stated.
Bennett is just one of more than 58,000 names on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. His story is just one of many — not every one of them won a Medal of Honor but each one gave all to their country.
This weekend, local residents will have a chance to go to the Wall to pay tribute and remember those who paid the ultimate price for our country.
The Dignity Memorial Vietnam Wall — a traveling, three-quarter-scale replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial — will be in Griffin May 27-30 at Wyomia Tyus Park.
I would urge anyone in the community to visit the Wall this weekend and always remember their sacrifices.
Anthony Rhoads is the assistant managing editor of The Griffin Daily News. He can be reached at email@example.com.