Honoring our World War II Veterans: Clinton Bennett

Susan Edens

For The New Era

On a crisp November afternoon, Foster Lake mirrors the myriad of colors that surround its banks, and from his front room Clinton Bennett looks down on the picture postcard view through a front window designed just for that purpose.

A lot of years and thousands of miles separate him from the ?Battle of the Bulge? where he participated in an event that appears in history books.

Bennett was a 19-year-old working in construction in Moses Lake, Wash. when he was drafted into the Army in March of 1943. After his basic training in Fort Knox, he was shipped to Bouse, Ariz. for specialized training. He learned to operate tanks there in the desert and stood guard while riding the flat cars and protecting the top-secret tarp-covered tanks he had been sent to retrieve. Bennett was a member of the 526th Armored Infantry Division.

?We were basically used wherever and whenever they needed help or a diversion. We took orders from (Gen.) Omar Bradley and part of our battalion was sent to headquarters to provide security,? Bennett said of his own duties as a gun plattooner and tank driver.

He left the States and unloaded with the equipment in England, but when they arrived, the soldiers found out the tanks they were to operate were not the ones they had been trained on stateside. They were amphibious tanks that ?looked just like a fishing boat when they were sitting in the water.?

Bennett?s battalion was the first combat force to reach Malmedy, Belgium, and the now-famous Battle of the Buldge. He said his division had only light tanks and mortars and was just holding its own waiting for troops with bigger armor and more firepower. He said that both A and B company lost a number of men and others were taken as prisoners of war, before re-enforcements showed up and turned the tide.

Bennett has received a newsletter every three months for years called the ?Pekan Newsletter,? which highlights the history and the present-day occupations of the 526th Armoured Infantry Battalion. The banner on the front page of each edition is embazoned with a motto that proclaims:?The sole, separate and remaining combat armored infantry battalion of WWII.?

Below the motto the newletter?s purpose is stated: ?This publication is to ensure the memory of our fellow soldiers who gave their lives in service shall not die.? The battalion?s motto in Latin appears on the front page as well ? ?Validi Milites,? meaning ?valiant warriors.?

A recent edition showed a baby-faced Bennett with one foot on the running board of a pickup with three other men standing near the hood. Bennett looked at the picture and sadly reflected that he was the only one of the four still living.

When the war ended Bennett did not just pull guard duty and wait for discharge as many did, but was sent to a technical school in England, where he received 340 hours of mechanical training and met the woman he would eventually marry. Two years, nine months and 27 days after being drafted, Bennett was discharged and sent back home the the United States.

Times were tough back home. He spent the first few months trying to eke out a living as a shop mechanic at a Dodge/Plymouth dealership. But there were too many mechanics and not enough work for him to earn a decent living. A friend of his told him of another job driving truck in the fields, where he was paid $3 an hour and guaranteed six hours a day.

Bennett?s father was working construction on the North Santiam and when he got hurt on the job, Bennett went home to try and help. He and his dad started working on a long-held dream and by 1947 Bennett?s Station between Cascadia and Sweet Home was operating.

Now secure, Bennett sent for his English fiance, Hilda, and the two were married Jan. 3, 1949.

? I could have married her over in England, but I didn?t want to bring her over here without a job or a house to live in,? Bennett said explaing the lapse of time from when they met until she arrived in the States. The two made a good life together, raised two sons Brian and Ray, and have three grandchildren and one great-grandson, who will be 4 at Christmas. Bennett was widowed in July of 2003.

Bennett?s last professional career started in 1969, when he was drafted off of his position on the school board and made the auto shop instructor at the high school. He closed his shop and began teaching in 1969. He taught hundreds of young men his trade until he retired in 1985.

? I really enjoyed that job because I knew most of the boys or their parents,? Bennett said of his teaching days.