In honor of Veteran’s Day, I would like to honor a veteran of World War II, Tony Bennett. We all know that Tony ended his service in the Army singing with an army band. But today, I want us to all remember that he started his service as soldier in the trenches.
Bennett was part of a wave of soldiers who were assigned to replenish units that had been decimated as part of the D-Day Invasion and the Battle of the Bulge. Bennett was just out of basic training, thrown into a war in full swing.
Tony Bennett has written movingly of the terrors of war in his book The Good Life:
I was assigned to the Seventh Army, 63rd Infantry Division of the 255th Regiment, G Company. We were loaded into army trucks and made our way east across France during the harsh winter months of January and February 1945. By March, we had entered Germany. We all went straight to the front line. It became evident upon our arrival that our basic training was just that; nothing could have prepared us for what was in store.
My first night on the line I had a terrifying experience. I finished digging my foxhole, but I was so exhausted I just passed out on the ground before I could even get into the hole. When I woke up, my face and body were completely covered with snow. I was really disoriented, and once I realized what had happened, I started to look around. Directly behind me was a tree, and embedded in the trunk was a huge piece of shrapnel, right above where I’d been sleeping. If I’d been just a few inches higher off the ground, I would have been killed that first night.
I was sketching in a slit trench, hiding out, waiting for the Germans. All of a sudden, I heard a whistle. I knew immediately that it was coming right at us. The noise that it made was unbelievable. It overcame me. So I ran as fast as I could from that trench. I was twenty-five feet away when the shell hit exactly where I’d been sketching. What did it teach me? To be against war.
And finally …
It was gratifying that the last official mission of the 255th Regiment was the liberation of the concentration camp in the town of Landsberg. It was thirty miles south of the notorious Dachau camp, on the opposite bank of the Lech River, which we were approaching. The river was treacherous and difficult to cross because there were still German soldiers protecting it, but we wouldn’t let anything stop us from freeing those prisoners. Many writers have recorded what it was like in the concentration camps much more eloquently than I ever could, so I won’t even try to describe it. Just let me say I’ll never forget the desperate faces and empty stares of the prisoners as they wandered aimlessly around the campgrounds. Once we took possession of the camp, we immediately got food and water to the survivors, but they had been brutalized for so long that at first they couldn’t believe that we were there to help them and not to kill them.
Many Americans have served in wartime and I have no doubt that most, if not all, have been changed by that experience. For Tony Bennett, his experience served to cement his stature as a man of peace. In The Zen of Bennett, this one simple sentence meant everything to me:
War is not a solution to the world’s problems.
And so today I honor the service not just of Anthony Dominick Benedetto, but all the men and women who have served our country since its fight for independence starting in 1775.
I’ll close with this video of Tony singing “God Bless America.”