The obituary said Major Bennie Eugene Young had three tours of duty in Vietnam and served his country with pride and honor.
But Young actually fought two wars in his lifetime.
The first was in Southeast Asia, where he was a helicopter pilot. He returned with two Purple Hearts and without his left foot.
Then there was his private war against Alzheimer's. Late in life, it chipped away at his memory.
Thursday, he will be buried with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. He will be laid to rest in the company of presidents, statesmen, astronauts, famous explorers and soldiers.
The hills of the nation's most famous cemetery overlook the Pentagon, where he worked for the Department of Defense before he retired.
He spent the last years of his life in Jupiter, Florida, and his final months in a veterans home. (Three of his sisters still live in Middle Georgia: Melba Hubbard of Musella, Verna Mae Brewer of Perry and Dorothy Schotthoefer of Gordon.)
Among the family's keepsakes are the memories of a devoted father, husband and brother.
“He lived for his family and his country,” said Hubbard. “He always considered it a great honor to serve.”
Although he fought in an unpopular war, he never backed down from his call of duty. When anti-war letters arrived from friends of friends back home, it only strengthened his resolve. His last two tours were voluntary.
“He would never say whether the war was right or wrong,” said Hubbard. “He did what his country asked him to do.”
He grew up on a farm in Milner, about five miles north of Barnesville on U.S. 41. His father took a job at Robins Air Force Base in 1945, and the family moved to Warner Robins, then Macon.
When he was 13, Young worked the soda fountain at Hoggs Drug Store on Houston Avenue. A girl named Patricia came in the store one day, and Cupid's arrows began to fly. “Some day,” she told her cousin, “he's gonna be mine.”
He graduated from Lanier High School in 1953, and they were married after graduation. She went to nursing school. He enlisted in the Army. In 1962, he completed flight school and became a helicopter pilot.
His chopper took enemy fire near DaNang when a sniper opened fire. He managed to bring his wounded bird back to base. Although Young was wounded, he was never bitter about losing his foot.
Melba remembers calling her brother at military hospitals in in Guam and Hawaii.
“You'll never guess who's in the bed next to me,” he told her.
It was Barry Sadler, the man who wrote the song, “Ballad of the Green Berets.”
After his injury, Young assisted in training helicopter pilots. He traveled all over the world. He helped design the cockpit of the famed Black Hawk helicopter. He worked with a German electronics company doing research and development of night-vision technology.
He was just a skinny kid from Georgia who answered the call of his country. But there was more to his story than that.
Said Hubbard: “He even amazed himself.”
YOUNG, BENNIE E
MAJ US ARMY
DATE OF BIRTH: 08/02/1935
DATE OF DEATH: 10/11/2004
BURIED AT: SECTION 38 SITE 695
ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY
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Michael Robert Patterson was born in Arlington and is the son of a former officer of the US Army. So it was no wonder that sooner or later his interests drew him to American history and especially to American military history. Many of his articles can be found on renowned portals like the New York Times, Washingtonpost or Wikipedia.
Reviewed by: Michael Howard