Friday, June 25, 2010

Peace Activist of the Week- Cpl. Thomas W. Bennett

Cpl. Thomas W. Bennett (1947-1969) was a conscientious objector and the second conscientious objector to be awarded the medal of honor. It was awarded to him posthumously as he died during a battle in Vietnam. He was trying to reach a wounded solider shot by a sniper.

Bennett was raised Southern Baptist but was very ecumenical. He believed in the validity of all religious faiths. He also believed that all human life was sanctified. On the other hand, his step-father, a WWII Navy veteran, raised him with a deep sense of patriotism. Many of his friends had been drafted. His childhood friend was killed in action. Therefore he was very conflicted about the Vietnam War.

After receiving poor grades at West Virginia University, he was put on probation. Fearing that he could not use his school status to defer being drafted, he pondered what would be the best route to take. He spoke to several friends, counselors, and his minister about what to do. He could either run for Canada and be labeled a coward, serve in the military and go against his beliefs, or he could file for conscientious objector status and not serve at all. Through his discussions with draft counselors he learned that he could register as a conscientious objector and still serve. He signed up to be a medic.

He was assigned to Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 14th Infantry in the Central Highlands of Vietnam. During his time with Bravo Company he pulled five wounded men to safety. He also constantly put himself in harms way in order to aid his fellow soldiers. Here are his heroic deeds that earned him the Medal of Honor:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. Cpl. Bennett distinguished himself while serving as a platoon medical aidman with the 2d 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. Cpl. 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. Cpl. 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, Cpl. 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. Cpl. 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 Cpl. 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. Cpl. 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.

Because Cpl. Thomas W. Bennett felt a deep sense of respect for human life as well as patriot duty, I salute him as my peace activist of the week.