Thursday, July 7, 2011

Tom Bennett: what would he think about these wars?

In 1980, 11 years after a young Army medic from Morgantown, WV, was killed in Vietnam, his story, Peaceful Patriot, was published by Mountain State Press in Charleston, WV.

Like so many of us reaching adulthood in the 1960s, Thomas W. Bennett was not sure what he wanted to do with his life. He could have been a congressman, a counselor, a doctor, a minister--even a musician. But growing up in a middle class family, he felt it was fundamentally unfair that poor and working class people were more susceptible to being sent to war.  When his draft notice came, he applied, and was accepted by the draft board, as a “conscientious objector willing to serve.”

I met Tom when he was a student leader during my freshman year as a journalism student at West Virginia University. He was good at making friends everywhere, and the Army was no exception. He was always scrounging for supplies so that nobody’s cut went unbandaged  and no illness went untreated. Toil Smith III from Kansas City remembered him for helping to rig up a radio receiver so he and his friends could hear some jazz music.

I had a mad crush on Tom and took to writing things about him. He knew he could count on me to write his biography.  He lived a full life at 21 years.  He died trying to save somebody in a battle on Chu Pa mountain in Pleiku, Vietnam, Feb. 11, 1969.

Tom’s stepfather Kermit Gray fought in World War II. Tom believed in American freedom and democracy, and was always trying to inform and include more people in the workings of government.  Like Martin Luther King Jr., he did not believe we should be fighting in Vietnam. I don’t believe we should be fighting these wars of today. Who are we to lord it over other countries when our own needs so much work? 

Tom’s uncle, Robert Miller, and I don’t always agree on public affairs. But Tom would never want us to fight with each other! Uncle Bob has put together an informative tribute on-line, noting that people in the military respected Tom so much that several facilities were named after him.  

The 224-page paperback Peaceful Patriot: The Story of Tom Bennett was republished by Peaceful Patriot Press in 1987, and a few copies are still available by mailing a check for $20 each, plus $5 postage for a total of $25.00, to Peaceful Patriot Press, P.O. Box 359, Capon Springs WV 26823.  Also Amazon has a few.

Rest in Peace, Tom, as we continue to struggle with the issues your life pointed out to us.

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