Who was Thomas W. Bennett?

Introduction

Thomas William Bennett (07 April 1947 to 11 February 1969) was a United States Army medic who was killed in action during the Vietnam War and the second conscientious objector to receive the Medal of Honour.

Bennett received the medal after repeatedly putting himself in harm’s way to save wounded soldiers during operations in the Central Highlands of Vietnam. He was mortally wounded during one of these actions in Pleiku Province, and received the Medal of Honour posthumously.

Refer to Desmond Doss, the first combat medic and conscientious objector to receive the Medal of Honour (World War II).

Biography

Born in Morgantown, West Virginia, Thomas W. Bennett was sociable and deeply religious. He was raised Southern Baptist, but 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 01 January 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 09 February 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 11 February, while attempting to reach a soldier wounded by sniper fire, Bennett was gunned down. On 07 April 1970, his posthumous Medal of Honour was presented to his mother and stepfather by President Richard Nixon.

In 1988 a centre for young people at Schofield Barracks on Oahu, Hawaii, was named for Bennett. A bridge carrying Interstate 79 over the Monongahela River in Morgantown, WV is named in his honour. At West Virginia University’s Evansdale Residential Complex, the Bennett Tower residence hall is named in his honour. A medical clinic at Fort Hood, Texas is named in his honour. He is the subject of Peaceful Patriot: the Story of Tom Bennett by Bonni McKeown.

Medal of Honour Citation

Rank and organisation: Corporal, United States Army, 2nd Platoon, Company B, 1st Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment.

Place and date: Chu Pah Region, Pleiku Province, Republic of Vietnam, 09-11 February 1969.

Entered service at: Fairmont, West Virginia.

Birth: Morgantown, West Virginia Born: 07 April 1947.

Citation

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.

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