BY DUANE ALLEN VACHON, PH.D. Thomas W. Bennett was born in Morgantown, West Virginia on April 7, 1947. He is the second of three conscientious objectors who received the Medal of Honor. (Desmond Doss, a medic in World War II, was the first. Joseph Guy LaPointe Jr was the third.). Bennett was killed in action during the Vietnam War and posthumously received the Medal of Honor.
Bennett was sociable and deeply religious. While a student at West Virginia University, he formed the Campus Ecumenical Council during his freshman year.
When he was placed on academic probation after the Fall 1967 semester, he considered his options should he lose his academic deferment. Deeply patriotic, but opposed to killing on religious grounds, he opted to enlist as a conscientious objector who was willing to serve. This classification is different from a conscientious objector who will not assist the military in any way. He was trained as a field medic.
Bennett arrived in South Vietnam on January 1, 1969, and was assigned to Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 14th Infantry in the Central Highlands of Vietnam. The unit began a series of strenuous patrols in the dense, mountainous terrain. On February 9, 1969, the unit came under intense fire, and Bennett risked gunfire to pull at least five wounded men to safety. That evening, his platoon sergeant recommended him for the Silver Star.
Over the coming days, Bennett repeatedly put himself in harm’s way to tend to the wounded. On February 11, while attempting to reach a soldier wounded by sniper fire, Bennett was gunned down. On April 7, 1970, his posthumous Medal of Honor was presented to his mother and stepfather by President Richard Nixon.
On April 7, 1970, Tom Bennett’s 23rd birthday, President Richard M. Nixon presented his posthumous Medal of Honor to his mother and stepfather. When first notified of the award, Bennett’s mother had considered refusing it, her way of protesting the war and the senseless loss of her son. But then her husband spoke up, No. It was the boys in his outfit that put him in for it. They wanted him to have it.
Thus Bennett became the first of two conscientious objectors to receive the Medal of Honor in the Vietnam War, and at that time only the second in history to be so recognized. The first was Desmond Doss, a Seventh Day Adventist who was cited for his heroism on Okinawa in World War II.
In August 1988 a youth center at Schofield Barracks on Oahu, Hawaii, was named for Bennett. It was an excellent choice. Tom’s adherence to his personal values, while still believing in and dying for his country, stands as a strong moral example to today’s young men and women.
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. Bennett distinguished himself while serving as a platoon medical aidman with the 2nd Platoon, Company B, during a reconnaissance-in-force mission. On 9 February the platoon was moving to assist the 1st Platoon of Company D which had run into a North Vietnamese ambush when it became heavily engaged by the intense small arms, automatic weapons, mortar and rocket fire from a well fortified and numerically superior enemy unit. In the initial barrage of fire, 3 of the point members of the platoon fell wounded. Bennett, with complete disregard for his safety, ran through 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 from which they would be medically evacuated from the battle position. Bennett repeatedly braved the intense enemy fire moving across open areas to give aid and comfort to his wounded comrades. He valiantly exposed himself to the heavy fire in order to retrieve the bodies of several fallen personnel. Throughout the night and following day, Bennett moved from position to position treating and comforting the several personnel who had suffered shrapnel and gunshot wounds. On 11 February, Company B again moved in an assault on the well fortified enemy positions and became heavily engaged with the numerically superior enemy force. Five members of the company fell wounded in the initial assault. . Bennett ran to their aid without regard to the heavy fire. He treated 1 wounded comrade and began running toward another seriously wounded man. Although the wounded man was located forward of the company position covered by heavy enemy grazing fire and . Bennett was warned that it was impossible to reach the position, he leaped forward with complete disregard for his safety to save his comrade’s life. In attempting to save his fellow soldier, he was mortally wounded. . Bennett’s undaunted concern for his comrades at the cost of his life above and beyond the call of duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the U.S. Army.
// Richard M. Nixon // President
William Bennett is buried at East Oak Grove Cemetery – Morgantown, West Virginia. If your travels should bring you to Morgantown, West Virginia one day, take a few minutes and call in at the cemetery and let William know he is not forgotten.
The information in this article was sourced from a variety of sources both internal and external. Every effort was made to ensure that the information is current and correct. These articles are presented to honor the heroes they are written about.
If you can read this, thank a teacher. If you can read this in English, thank a veteran.