SOUTH HAVEN — Few World War II veterans remain these days in Southwest Michigan.
Charles “Art” Bennett is one of them.
At 97, Bennett is still active and sharp as a tack. Prior to being interviewed, Wednesday, at his rural South Haven area home, Bennett had just finished mowing the lawn.
“There was one part I couldn’t get to because it was too wet,” he groused.
Bennett vividly recalls the day he decided to enlist in the U.S. Marines.
“I enlisted in September of 1942,” he said. “They were drafting everyone anyway. A week later my mother told me I had received my draft notice in the mail.”
Bennett spent the next three years as a gunner serving in the Pacific Theater. He and his fellow Marines were involved in a series of campaigns to capture islands held by the Japanese, including the battles that took place in 1944-45 on the Island of Bouganville on the Solomon Sea and finally the invasion of Okinawa.
The 82-day battle on the Island of Okinawa began in April 1945 with the American military finally gaining control of the island. Bennett remembered the intensity of the fighting.
“The Japanese sent 300 fighter planes at one time,” he recalled. Bouganville was equally as dangerous. “They (Japanese) bombed us every night.”
The grimness of war was tinged at times with humor.
Bennett’s daughter, Carol, who was visiting her dad during his interview, sorted through some of her father’s World War II photos and finally found the one she was looking for.
It showed Bennett and a fellow Marine, each clad in nothing but a leaf.
“I don’t know what kind of tree they were from, but they were big leaves,” Bennett said.
Each leaf covered the front of the men from waist to knee. Along with his photos, Marine cap, tie, and dog tags saved from the war, Bennett has retained a spoon that he used then.
“We ate with spoons,” he explained. “I always liked that one.”
Bennett served a total of 39 months with the Marines, earning his honorable discharge in December 1945.
He can still recall the day he returned to South Haven.
“I came home and nobody was home,” he laughed, explaining that his family didn’t know of his exact arrival because at that time few rural residents had telephone service.
After the war, Bennett married and went to work for the former Everett Piano Co. “I worked there 39 years,” he said. He and his wife, Mary had two children, Carol and Robert. After “retiring,” Bennett, who had grown up on a farm, decided to farm part-time.
His wife died in 2011, but he continues to live at home, visit with friends and family, and as usual, keeps busy. Something Carol thinks has led to her dad’s longevity.
“He raked hay last fall,” she said. “He has a garden too.”
The garden is now primarily tended to by grandchildren, but Bennett looks after it from time to time.
“They tend to forget to hoe it,” he said.