Honor Untarnished: A West Point Graduate's Memoir of World War II [NOOK Book]


What the bestsellers Flags of Our Fathers was to Iwo Jima and Duty to the mission of the Enola Gay, Honor Untarnished is to the World War II tour of duty of young graduate of a West Point.

Whether it was fighting Rommel's fierce Afrika Korps hitting the beaches of Normandy on D Day, surviving the Battle of the Bulge, or just being in the next room during the infamous ...
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Honor Untarnished: A West Point Graduate's Memoir of World War II

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What the bestsellers Flags of Our Fathers was to Iwo Jima and Duty to the mission of the Enola Gay, Honor Untarnished is to the World War II tour of duty of young graduate of a West Point.

Whether it was fighting Rommel's fierce Afrika Korps hitting the beaches of Normandy on D Day, surviving the Battle of the Bulge, or just being in the next room during the infamous "slapping incident" of Blood-n-Guts General George Patton, Donald Bennett experienced the fiery crucible of World War II and survived to tell about it.

As a recent graduate of West Point, First Lieutenant Bennett was given the charge of training inexperienced and scared recruits, and leading them into battle against the Axis forces. From orientation at Fort Sill, Oklahoma through the fiercest battles of the war right up to the liberation of the death camps and our complicit confrontation with the Soviet Union over Eastern Europe, Don Bennett, not yet thirty, preserved the honor of the corps, and the liberty of the free world.

Lindbergh, Patton, Bradley, and Eisenhower are just names in a history book to most-but to Don Bennett they were personal acquaintances.

This is the story of D Day, the Bulge, and the rest of the war. It differs from many recent books on similar events ... because Don Bennett was actually there!

At the publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management software (DRM) applied.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Well written and was hard to put down."

—Kepler's Military History Book Reviews

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781429970792
  • Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
  • Publication date: 6/1/2003
  • Sold by: Macmillan
  • Format: eBook
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 642,354
  • File size: 515 KB

Meet the Author

General Donald V. Bennett (retired), a graduate and former commandant of West Point, won the Distinguished Service Cross and two Purple Hearts for his service in World War II. He is retired and lives in Montreat, North Carolina, where he occasionally lectures on "the Greatest Generation."

Dr. William R. Forstchen is Professor of History at Montreat College, author of the Lost Regiment series, and We Look like Men of War and coauthor (with Newt Gingrich) of 1945 and a new Civil War alternate history.

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Read an Excerpt


Childhood and Early Years

I was born on May 9, 1915, in the small town of Lakeside, Ohio, located a dozen miles or so outside of Toledo. Lakeside was like a thousand other towns of the Midwest in those years, one foot still firmly planted in the nineteenth century, the other foot just beginning to edge into the twentieth.
When I was about a year old, we moved to Genoa, and then several years later to Oak Harbor.
Where I grew up had only one church, Methodist, which my family went to every Sunday. The local school had three hundred or so students, from kindergarten to twelfth grade all in one building. They were just starting to pave the streets, news came via the paper from Toledo or telegraph, and my father's job was supervising the stringing of electrical lines and the powering of the trolley that connected us to the rest of the world.
As I write this now, eighty-six years later, it seems that I was born into a far different world, and I am stunned by how quickly it changed and the role I played in creating some of that change.
When I was a boy, veterans of the Civil War were a common sight. That war was only fifty years past. The men in blue uniforms, who seemed so ancient to me then, were younger than I am now. Bull Run, Gettysburg, Shiloh, Appomattox were not just names in history books, they were memories still alive in the hearts of millions of Americans. On Decoration Day tears still flowed when flowers were laid upon graves of comrades who died in such distant places as Virginia and Georgia.
When I graduated from West Point and went to my first posting at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, I was trained in how to lead a team of horses pulling an artillery piece, riding one of the trace horses, learning the lesson all old artillerymen knew, to keep your right foot high and out of the stirrup, otherwise it might be crushed by the guide pole.
Only four years after learning that lesson I was in command of a mechanized battalion of armored artillery at Omaha Beach. That one battalion had more firepower than all the artillery pieces fired at Gettysburg. Only five years after Omaha, I witnessed the detonation of an atomic bomb in Nevada. And but ten years after that, I personally was responsible for hundreds of such weapons deployed in Germany. That is how quickly my world, our world, changed.
* * *
My family came to America from England. My father, Louis Bennett, was born in the 1890s. He never knew who his father was. Only one person knew for sure, his mother--at least we think she was my father's mother. There were some rumors that, in fact, my real grandmother, Dad's mother, had given him away to a friend, Grandmother Bennett swearing her to secrecy about who she and the father really were. For reasons we'll never know, Grandmother Bennett never once talked about it, taking the secret to her grave. It had the aura of a Victorian novel about it, and my sisters and I found it all quite mysterious and exciting. We liked to assume that our mystery grandparents, in England, were royalty. Who knows, maybe they were.
When Dad was seventeen, he went to work in the new high-tech industry of that day, wireless telegraphy, and actually apprenticed under the legendary Marconi, helping to build the first transatlantic radio station in England.
Dad's mother, Grandmother Bennett, was good friends with the Jackas, a family who had moved from England to Canada and from there to Ohio. They invited Dad and Grandmother to come over, and in 1909 they made the move.
My father, like so many others, came to America and landed at Ellis Island. I have often thought about the strange twists of history. Thirty-five years later I would go to England as part of the greatest invasion force in history, one of millions of Americans preparing for D day. If fate had been slightly different, I might have been in the British army instead, perhaps to fight and die at Dunkirk or at El Alamein.
The Jackas were an interesting family. They had a daughter who most certainly caught the interest of my father. Her name was Mary Grills Jacka, and she would be my mother.
Grandpa Jacka was born in Capetown, South Africa, long before the start of the Boer War. He became a sailor, then a minister, and finally wound up working in a limestone quarry in Lakeside, Ohio.
My mother had four brothers, all of whom went into the army during World War I. One of them was badly gassed and never really recovered.
My mother was a handsome woman, strong in character and faith. She eventually had four children, my older sister Florence, then me, and then my younger sisters, Rosemary and Margaret.
My first memories of my father were that he was an important man in town. He was, to that age, the master of a high-tech wonder, electricity, a position as mysterious to some as someone who today builds and runs complex computer systems.
Having worked for Marconi, my father quickly landed a job with the power company and was soon responsible for laying out the electrical grid to the small towns and farming communities surrounding Toledo. The power company also ran the trolley lines. I remember riding the trolleys with my father and mother as a small boy, proud that my father was responsible for the "juice" that made them run.
As I look back, I realize we were far better off than many. We actually owned an automobile, my father needing it so he could get around to the different work sites. We had a telephone, and even a radio, in fact, the first radio in town.
It was a crystal set that my father built himself, baking the crystal coil in the kitchen stove. He set up a sixty-foot-high pole in the backyard and from it strung an aerial into the house. In the evening Dad would carefully adjust the set, and if conditions were right, we might pull in WJR across the lake in Detroit or even KDKA out of Pittsburgh.
Neighbors would come over and gather around the tiny speaker, awed by this new wonder that could carry voices, news, and music from hundreds of miles away. Of course, no one was allowed to touch the set. That was my father's domain.
As I think about all that I eventually moved on to, command of a battalion in combat, the rank of a four-star general, commander of hundreds of thousands of troops, and adviser of presidents, I am grateful for that small town, and that world that I grew up in.
It was a tight-knit world. We all knew each other, knew who could be counted on in times of trouble, knew whose word was always a solemn pledge, knew who had strength and who did not.
It was a world that some today might find constricting, for it is chic and popular today to dismiss the values of small-town America of that time. But I was grateful for it and shall treasure its memories and all that it taught me.
I learned at a very early age that if a boy gave his word, he was expected to keep it. If he failed to do so, everyone knew, his teachers, the minister, the local policeman, the neighbors, and eventually his parents. As a child, if I got into some mischief or trouble, by the time I got home my parents already knew about it, and punishment awaited.
A man, even at the age of seven, was expected to be respectful of elders, look out for the welfare of his sisters, and share with those less fortunate. If told to do a job, he did it.
Recently a friend told me a story about the famous Civil War general Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. When asked what had been the most important moment that had shaped his character, Chamberlain told a story about clearing rocks from the fields of the family farm. To a farmer in Maine, rocks in a field were simply a part of life, and before spring plowing one of the back-breaking chores was to move boulders and rocks pushed up by the spring thaw.
One day Joshua's father told him to round up his brothers and move a huge boulder from the middle of a field. Joshua and his brothers walked out to the boulder, took one look at it, and decided there and then that the job was impossible, and so they wandered off to other things.
Later in the day their father appeared and demanded to know why the rock had not been moved.
"It's impossible," Joshua argued.
"Nothing is impossible," the father replied. "Now move it, and don't come home for dinner till you do."
Eventually, late at night, the rock was finally dug out and dragged from the field.
Today Joshua's father might very well have received a visit from some government agency, ready to arrest him for child abuse, but I can relate to that story. Most of the men of my generation can relate to it. That, as much as any other reason, is why we went on to win the most bitterly fought war in history. Most of us approached that fight with a simple understanding that nothing was impossible if ever we set ourselves, as a nation, to the task of winning.
I was not a farm boy. I grew up in a small town, but that attitude, what the Romans called gravitas, was a daily part of our lives.
I'm not saying that the world I grew up in was one of simple drudgery and harshness. Far from it. There were wonderful times of fun, days of playing in fields and woods, lazy mornings fishing and autumn afternoons hunting. And yes, there was sadness and failures as well, as all families know and experience. But underneath it all there was always a sense of being part of a community and of a family that expected us to do our best no matter what the challenge.
Like any boy I had my share of scrapes and at times was something of a rapscallion. A movie theater finally opened in town, much to the dismay of some of our church elders, and I thought it would be a wonderful idea, on a cool fall evening, to transfer piles of leaves into the cars parked outside the theater. Another troublemaker and I were happily at work when I heard someone clearing his throat behind me. I turned to find myself staring up at the town policeman. His punishment was a simple one. He handcuffed both of us to the bumper of one of the cars and then sat back and waited for the theater to empty. With a lot of angry theatergoers standing around we were finally released, then marched from car to car with a broom to clean them all out. Needless to say, when I got home, the "stuff" really hit the fan.
I really got into it when I convinced some of my friends that school was a waste of time when compared to the prospect of seeing the Toledo Mudhens, a farm team of the Cleveland Indians, open their season. Leo Durocher was managing. So we skipped school, hopped the trolley, and headed into the big city. We had a grand time. The stands were packed with hundreds of schoolkids who also decided that a proper education included a spring day in the bleachers on opening day, stuffing their faces with hot dogs and shouting insults at the players from out of town.
Our problem was that the superintendent of schools, Mr. Waters, figured out where we were. Again, that mysterious telegraphy system of small-town America. When we hopped off the trolley, our fathers were waiting for us, and again the "stuff" hit the fan.
My school, as I mentioned, was a small one. We averaged about thirty to thirty-five students in a class, and all of us, from kindergarten to twelfth grade, were in the same building.
It was a mile walk to school. Though I will not claim that it was uphill both ways, I do remember many a bitter winter morning, the icy wind blowing in from Lake Erie, my mother bundling us up and pushing us out the door, with me acting as the snowplow, breaking a path for my younger sisters.
From an early age I was a voracious reader. By the time I was ten or eleven I had cleaned out the small-town library of every book on its shelves. Whenever a new book came in, no matter what the subject, it could be about the animals of Africa, a book on painting, or stories of ancient history, I was eager to grab it up.
My father, being a self-trained electrical engineer, read all he could find on that subject, and I remember the delight of discovering a great pile of Popular Mechanics up in the attic. The issues published during the Great War were my favorites, with elaborate diagrams of fortifications, great guns, and that new marvel, airplanes. I think it was there that my interest in things military first started.
By the time I was a freshman in high school I was eager to get into varsity sports. The problem was that I weighed a hundred and twelve pounds and wasn't much more than five and a half feet tall. I never really understood the coach's logic, but he felt that my size really qualified me to be the center on the football team.
Every Friday afternoon during the fall of that year I got the crap kicked out of me, but I learned how to survive. There was no way I could meet some of those guys head on, so I simply ducked low, dodged around them, kicked back with my heels, and nailed the other guy on the legs, and either tripped him up or simply kicked him to the ground. Today penalty flags would be flying all over the place, but football back then was a lot more rough-and-tumble, and without all the padding and safety equipment. After a game I could barely walk the next day, but I hung in there. It was a matter of pride. Maybe I learned then a lesson that helped keep me alive later: When confronted with a superior foe, never get into a slugging match; figure out a way to get around him and trip him up. In war, there is no such thing as penalty flags; there is only survival.
I remember the last game of that season. We played Port Clinton for the county championship. The center for their team was huge. I heard he weighed two hundred and forty pounds. He was also the first African American I had ever met. I think back on that and realize how different the world was, that a boy could be in high school and never have met another kid from a different race. It might be nostalgia now, but I have to say that for all of us, on both teams, he was just another one of the guys, and a darn tough opponent, someone to be respected.
Somehow we won that game, and I survived getting run over by a 1930s version of "the Refrigerator."
During the winter I was on the basketball team, and in spring it was track. All the sports were coached by Bob Thayer, who had a major influence on my life. He taught us about working as a team and took a personal interest in our lives.
I also got some sports training at home. My dad loved to box, and I was his sparring partner. Mom tended to look the other way, and I often wonder what she said to Dad in private after he had given me a good drubbing. Interestingly, the boxing lessons ended the day I nailed Dad with a real haymaker and knocked him flat.
I started ninth grade in the fall of 1929. Things were looking rather good for my family. Dad was promoted to one of the top management positions with the power company, with responsibility for handling relations with the union. If there was an evening meeting during the school year, he'd throw me in the car and take me along. I watched as Dad handled meetings, negotiated, and worked with men from all sorts of backgrounds. They were hardworking guys. They strung the wires, repaired breaks in the middle of blizzards, laid and repaired track for the interurban trolley lines, and all too frequently were juiced and killed. They were a no-nonsense bunch. Dad always treated them with the utmost respect, not because it was his job to do so, but because he really felt that way, and that came across.
Yet another lesson learned. One of the great mistakes of our army is the gulf that exists, even today, between officers and enlisted men, an attitude that goes back to our origins with the British army, the tradition that officers came from the aristocracy and line infantry were the lower class.
A good army needs officers, of course, men who can lead, and enlisted men who do the dirty work, but the whole thing of class distinction, the system of privileges, especially in the field, and that sense of social distance, should not be part of an army that comes out of a true republic. Yes, I expected my men to salute (at least when we were not on the front line where German snipers were waiting to see who got saluted) and follow my orders. On the other hand, it was my duty to treat my men with respect and understanding. In many ways it was far more important for me to serve them than the other way around, and I have always held in contempt those officers who see their enlisted personnel as nothing more than lower-class servants. When I finally got the power to influence things, any officer in my command who conveyed that attitude quickly found himself sidelined or transferred with one hell of a red check mark on his fitness report.
* * *
When the stock market crashed in October 1929, it didn't take long for the wave to hit our small town on the shores of Lake Erie. Heavy industry went belly up, steel mills in Cleveland, Sandusky, and Toledo went from three shifts to two to one, and many just shut down. The vast industrial web, the barge traffic, the trains and ships loaded with the raw material that fed the auto industry in Detroit and steel mills rimming Lake Erie, all of it came to a halt.
As the wave spread out, sales dropped in the stores, landlords no longer were paid rent, pensions disappeared as stocks crashed. Overnight, it seemed, a dark cloud spread across the land.
It's a time, though, that I remember with intense pride in my family and in my town.
I remember Mr. Bauch, the owner of a small general store. His customers were friends he had known for years. He simply took IOUs, knowing that he most likely would never get paid, but he would be damned if he saw his friends and neighbors go hungry or shoeless. He finally went out of business, but he did it with his head up and a sense of pride.
To cope with the problems of the unemployed, once a week there'd be a meeting, an informal gathering of men and women, the town leaders in a way: the minister, the policeman, a couple of merchants. My dad was part of that group. They'd meet in someone's home, sit down over coffee, and go down a list. Who was in trouble? Who was about to be foreclosed? Who had a sick kid? Somehow a few bucks would be scraped up, a basket of groceries put together, pairs of shoes and clothes for the kids passed along. Sometimes the local doctor would misplace a bill and never send it.
People had a strong sense of pride, and at times it was tough to get them to accept the help. It wasn't charity; that was important for them to understand. It was just neighbors in a small town looking out for each other. No one thought much about a big government coming in to save them. They saw the problem as local and dealt with it locally.
The same routine went on inside my family. We were one of the few lucky families that knew the paychecks would continue because even in a depression the electric company had to keep the juice flowing. On payday, after dinner, all of us, Mom, Dad, Grandmother Bennett, my sisters, and I would sit down around the dining room table. Dad would lay out how much we had, and which bills had to be taken care of. If anything was left over, the debate started. There was only so much to go around, and if one of my sisters asked for something unreasonable, the rest of us would jump in against it. There was one hell of a lot of negotiating on the side between those meetings, deals struck to support a bid for a sister's new shoes if I then got backed up in a request for a football.
We were expected to throw into the pot as well. Do a chore that might pick up half a dollar and you were expected to lay it on the table. And always there'd be a reminder that, come Friday, Dad would go to that community meeting where the talk would be about how some family was literally going to lose their farm if they didn't come up with the fifty-dollar mortgage payment.
It was a sobering lesson in the harshness of life.
It stuck with me. Years later, when advancing through Sicily, war-ravaged Holland, and Germany, I'd see the pinched faces of kids, old people standing in front of the smoking ruins of homes, refugees filling the roads, all their earthly possessions packed in a wheelbarrow, and I realized how easily it could have been our country, instead, that was suffering like that. In Europe I saw the complete breakdown of civilization. During the depression there were parts of America that held together and looked out for their neighbors.
Depression or not, the daily routines went on. Years from now, when September 11, 2001, is talked about, those who lived through that day will focus on that terrible moment when they saw the twin towers getting hit on television. What might be forgotten, though, is that the following day Americans got up, went to work, stopped at the convenience store to buy gas, and maybe even went to a movie. Even in the worst of times, the daily acts of living go on.
I went to school, read books, got interested in science, and survived my first crush. Her father was the dentist in town, and they owned a cottage on Lake Erie. I thought she was the most beautiful girl ever created, and of course she had me completely wrapped around her finger. We went to the prom together and then just sort of drifted away from each other.
By my senior year I was captain of the football team, having filled out from a skinny hundred and twelve pounds to a hundred and seventy and had moved from center to left tackle, calling the signals. Another guy on my team, a fellow from Czechoslovakia, actually went on to play with the Cleveland Browns.
Even as a senior I still walked to school every day, still acting as a snowplow for my younger sisters when the blizzards came in off the lake. One of the toughest courses, chemistry, was taught by the superintendent, Mr. Walker. Miss Schloss, our social studies teacher, really had an impact on me. She was that type of teacher who was almost a stereotype--never married, totally devoted to "her students," and always pushing us. We were her kids, and by heavens she was going to make sure that we all made something of ourselves or kill us in the attempt. She was an absolute tyrant in the classroom, and all of us were a bit frightened of her. Before one of her tests I'd stay up till midnight studying. And we loved her for it. She taught a couple of generations in that town, and when she retired I think the entire community wept at the farewell ceremony.
As I went into my senior year, I wasn't quite sure where I would go next. I had my sights set on West Point, not because I was all afire to have a career in the military, but because, quite simply, if I got in, the education was free, a real plus with a depression on. My application got nowhere, and I was rejected.
Coach Thayer suggested Michigan State, and he even had a little scam that would save on tuition. His mother lived right next to the campus, so he'd arrange to have her home listed as my official residence, and at the same time pull in some contacts with friends to help with a football scholarship.
I graduated from high school in the spring of 1933 and that fall was bound for Michigan, leaving my family and that small town on the shores of Lake Erie behind.
Franklin Roosevelt had just been inaugurated as president, hundreds of thousands of farmers out in Oklahoma, Kansas, and Texas were watching their farms blow away, factory workers were selling apples on street corners, and tens of thousands of guys my age were riding the rails, looking for work. I was lucky to be going to college, and I knew it.
In Europe, however, Adolf Hitler had just become chancellor of Germany. I doubt if I thought about him at all, or contemplated how that scum of a man would change my entire life.
* * *
I left Oak Harbor, Ohio, in the fall of 1933, and America was in the middle of the worst depression in its history. Just before I graduated, both banks in town went belly up, triggering something of a panic, since a lot of people lost every dime they had stored away. I realized, even then as a fresh kid of eighteen, that I was damn lucky to have a shot at a college education.
I majored in business administration. The schedule was a long one. My football scholarship didn't mean I had a free ride, simply that I had first stab at the jobs on campus. I wound up working in the chemistry lab, doing cleanup, four hours a night, six days a week.
So it'd be classes in the morning and early afternoon, practice in the late afternoon, and lab work in the evening, and whatever time was left over went to studying.
My time at Michigan State, after all these years, doesn't stand out all that strong in my memory. I guess that's true of anyone my age. There are moments when you can recall every detail, what you ate that day, what you wore, the weather, all that was said and done, and then there can be long stretches that were simply forgettable. Michigan State was okay, but the days just sort of drifted by.
I was a fairly good student, but classwork didn't fire my imagination. There was no special girl, though I did date quite a bit. The classes were a routine that didn't stretch me or excite my passion. I had tried for West Point, didn't get in, and that kind of stung. Down deep, I was wishing I was somewhere else.
At the end of my first year at Michigan State I came back home and, thanks to my father, I landed a job with the New York Central Railroad.
A job, any kind of job, in 1934 was as precious as gold. The pay was the princely sum of forty cents an hour, and I earned every penny of it. I was a track worker on the main line that ran from Chicago to New York City.
The men on my crew were a hard-bitten lot, some of them tough old birds who had been on the job for decades. Of course, they set the "college kid" up for a hell of a lot of comments and harassment at first. If there was anything particularly difficult or nasty, "Let Bennett do it" was the standard response. I didn't buckle, though, or complain, and after a while they eased up, and I must say I was proud to be accepted by men like them.
We worked a section of track. Our job was to walk the line, repair or replace broken ties, check their alignment, replace and pack ballast, replace worn rails.
Out there, on the main line, there isn't a speck of shade: all trees, of course, are cleared far back. In Ohio, in the summer, the track, the ties, the rock ballast soak up the heat and blast it back at you. By nine in the morning the heat shimmers would already be rising off the track. Also--this was long before any regulations by the EPA--the toilets on the trains simply flushed onto the track, something a worker might experience in an unpleasant way if someone aboard a train flushed just as it went thundering past. No machinery like today, we worked the way it was done a hundred and fifty years ago, with sledgehammers, crowbars, shovels, and pry bars, and I was expected to do more than my share.
I loved it. That work peeled off my body every ounce of fat that I had gained in college. For the first couple of weeks I could barely move by the end of the day, but after that I was in shape and could swing a hammer with the rest of the gang.
Plus, we were working on "the" line of the New York Central and not some spur to a tank town or even the interurban trolleys my father had helped to build. This was the big time.
While we were working, the foreman would always have a lookout posted. We'd be hammering away and yet be always alert so that no matter what we were doing, a train could still pass safely. When, suddenly, a cry of "Clear the track!" would go up, we'd only have seconds to react. The rule was always to run to the outside of the line, not in, for if a train came from the other way at the same time, you were dead. Second rule, hang on to your tools and make sure nothing was left lying around.
So we'd scramble out of the way and look up the line…and then we'd see it, the express, Chicago to New York, coming down the line at a hundred miles an hour.
The locomotives were huge, some of the greatest steam engines ever to ride the rails. We'd see the headlight glaring, smoke and steam swirling, and the rising pitch of the steam whistle as it blew a warning to get the hell out of the way because a hundred tons of locomotive were coming straight at you.
The ground would shake, the vibration rumbling through our feet, and then it'd be on us, whistle shrieking, Doppler-shifting up and down as it stormed past, steam, smoke, dust engulfing us. The power of it just got to me. It'd be years before I felt that sense of power again, and that would come in a far less innocent time, when I was part of an army going to war.
The cars would rush past in a blur. If I turned my head as they thundered past, I might catch a glimpse of someone at a window, looking out.
This was the "high rollers" train, its passengers racing from New York to Chicago in just a day, depression-wracked Ohio passing by their windows, a sweaty nineteen-year-old kid watching them roll by.
I use to wonder what it'd be like to ride as they did, eating dinner on white linen, the clicking of the track a hypnotic mantra, or playing cards in the lounge car or flirting with fine young girls of high society.
I loved it as well because the train provided a two-minute work break--a chance to gulp down some water and feel a touch of breeze (and hope I didn't get hit by something flushed out of that train), and then the foremen was yelling for us to get back at it.
And thus I spent my summer, swinging a sledge, putting my back into a pry bar as we straightened track, and watching the high rollers race by.
That fall it was back to classes. Again, there's not much to remember or talk about. The one change was that my football playing days were over. During a practice session where I was playing left end I got hammered on my left hip. They dragged me in to the doc; he did the usual tests and gave me a choice: I could continue to play ball, but if I did, I could forget about walking as I got older. So that ended my sports career at Michigan State, and with it the few perks I had as a player, one of them being the job at the chemistry lab that threw a few extra bucks a week into the budget.
And walking today is a pain, but maybe that's a result of something other than the football injury; getting picked up and thrown several times by bursting 88 shells might have contributed to the problem.
By the end of my sophomore year, I felt somewhat rudderless. I wanted to "do something" and not just go along with the flow. There was no real challenge to school. Frankly, it lacked a sense of purpose and, yes, even a touch of romance. I don't mean romance with a girl, but romance with life.
I was back on the rail gang, watching the trains roar by, hanging out with friends in the evening, wondering what was going to happen with my life when fall came. Sometimes, at night, I'd sit with my father and talk about it.
By this point Dad and I were getting a bit distant from each other. Part of it was my growing up, part of it was problems he was going through. My mother and my father were heading toward a divorce. That was still a few years off, and like most parents of that era, they were trying to hide it from the kids, though it was clear to my sisters and me that something was wrong.
Yet he was still there. Then something he did changed everything in my life.
It was the Fourth of July, 1935. Ozzie Nelson was doing a show and I went with my friends. If anyone remembers Ozzie Nelson today, it's from that absolutely boring television show in the fifties and the fact that he was the father of Ricky Nelson. But back in the midthirties he was hot; his band was one of the best dance groups in the country, though this was just before true swing music kicked in.
I went to the dance, had a good time, and got home late. My father was sitting up (another thing parents use to do when their kids were out, even college-aged kids), and as I came through the door he was grinning.
"Do you want to take another shot at West Point?"
I didn't get it. What the hell was he talking about? I had made my stab at it and hadn't got in.
"It was just on the news report," Dad continued. "Congress has authorized an increase in class size. I made a few calls and found out anyone can go for an appointment, even if you've been rejected before."
Sure. It seemed like a one-in-a-hundred shot, but anything was better than what was going on, and the Point was a dream I thought was out of reach.
Now the old system of getting into the Point might seem unfair today, but it was the simple reality of that time and typical of how political patronage works. Each congressman and senator had the power to make appointments. The spaces left over then went to those who passed competitive exams and to the sons of men who had received the Medal of Honor.
Four hundred more slots had opened up, one of the first indicators that someone upstairs was thinking about the world outside our national borders. Those four hundred slots were in the hands of congressmen. Whoever pushed the bill was thinking right on that point, allowing each of them to have a nice plum to pass out and thus win some more votes come election time.
My father didn't hesitate. It was midnight, but he started making phone calls. He knew our congressman and pulled out all the stops. The ink on the authorization bill was still wet and my father was already talking to our representative.
Eighteen days later I was at the train station, appointment letter tucked in my pocket, family and friends gathered around to see me off.
As I mentioned, there were things that would eventually divide me from my father. When the divorce hit, I stood on my mother's side. But all that was yet to come. At that moment, at the station, I was grateful. He had made a great effort to set my life in motion.
Today, I still wonder how a parent must feel when a son, or now a daughter, goes off to the Point. Years later, when I was superintendent, I'd watch parents on that first day, proudly accompanying their young man on to the Academy grounds, soaking up a last few minutes together before the army took their precious creation, the focus of the last eighteen years of their life, away.
As superintendent I watched that moment, sensing the excitement, the pride, and the fear.
I wondered how many parents, watching the child whom once they held, feared the darkness that might be ahead, a telegram in the hands of an officer at their door, their son a body rolling back and forth in the surf or frozenface down in the snow.
I saw those things. The memory of trying to pry the charred body of a comrade out of a burning tank still haunts me. I wonder if my parents, when standing with me, waiting for that train, foresaw that possibility for me.
That train, which had passed me by so many times before, approached, whistle shrieking, steam, smoke, and dust swirling, hot engine ticking and hissing as it glided to a stop, conductors, in that age-old chant shouting, "All aboard."
There was a final hug, sisters excited, Mom holding back tears, Father looking on proudly, grasping my hand. The last call from the conductor, and I went up the steps and settled into a seat.
When a train pulled by a high-powered locomotive starts forward, it is unlike anything else, far more exciting than sitting in a cushioned chair today, a flight attendant pantomiming safety instructions as you taxi off. When a train starts, you hear the whistle shrieking, smoke swirling about, the lurch as drive wheels spin, then dig into the track. Loved ones are standing outside, looking up, trying to catch a glimpse and waving. There is the deep chugging of the engine straining forward, station drifting back, speed picking up.
I don't remember whether I tried to spot my work gang. Most likely I did. If I did, they were a blur, left far behind, a world left behind, one to which I never went back again, except for a visit, and when I did, it was almost as a stranger, for so much had changed, I most of all.

Copyright © 2003 by Donald V. Bennett and William R. Forstchen
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Table of Contents

1. Childhood and Early Years 11
2. West Point 31
3. Fort Sill / Fort Sam Houston / Fort Knox 65
4. 1942 Stateside 81
5. Casablanca 99
6. Tunisia 115
7. Sicily 135
8. England 153
9. Getting Ready 167
10. June 6, 1944 193
11. Normandy 217
12. Breakout and the Race Across France 237
13. Stalled 251
14. To the Ardennes 267
15. To the Elbe 283
16. The Ending 295
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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 22, 2003

    A unique remembrance of war in Europe

    Honor Untarnished is marvelous history and a great read. The book is a brilliant first hand account by an officer who led his men from raw beginnings in an America woefully unequipped and unprepared for its greatest trial to its finest hour. With devastating fire and mobility they fought from North Africa to Sicily to Germany and on to war's end. The terrible crucible for his battalion was some of the fiercest fighting of WW II beginning with the first wave at Normandy and on through the heart of Europe. The story of these brave men is told with uncommon candor by an inspiring leader and innovative commander. Even then as a junior officer, he understood combat with uncany insight and saw warfare with the far sighted vision of the general he later became. It will come as no surprise to readers that Bennett's illustrious career included Superintendent of West Point, head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, and Commander of U.S. Forces in the Pacific.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 28, 2012

    Never read it never willlllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllollllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllollllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll Jklhhkrjyrjfytftyyyffy tttttttttttttttttttttteeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeerrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr


    0 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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