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Bennett Robert Henderson


Major Bennett

Robert Henderson Bennett
Serial Number:
44th Infantry Division
Date of Death:
New Jersey
Lorraine American cemetery, St Avold, France
Bronze Star

From the New York Times, 6 Dec 81, National Edition, page 10010113 under the headline FRENCH TOWN HONORS NEW JERSEY WAR HERO: The residents of Sarreguemines paid homage today to an American World War II hero, who kept their town on the German border alive during fighting at Christmas 36 years ago. The soldier's name was Maj. Robert Henderson Bennett, an attorney from Matawan, N.J., who enlisted in 1943. He was ambushed and killed by German soldiers on April 17, 1945, a month after he left the town he had saved. Major Bennett spent only three months in Sarreguemines, during the winter of 1944—45, but his heroic deeds provided the town with critically needed supplies and are so well remembered that Mayor Robert PaX today renamed one of the town's main squares after him. Major Bennett's widow, Mildred, and two sons, Peter of Clinton, N.J., and Richard of New York City, attended the ceremony in the French town of 26,293 people about 220 miles east of Paris. A military detachment from the United States Air Base in Zweibrucken, West Germany, and several members of Major Bennett's civil affairs unit of the military government section of the Seventh Army were on hand for the ceremony. Town's 'Patron Saint'. They were Godfrey Ettlinger of Hastings—on—Hudson, N.Y., who served as a lieutenant and as a sergeant under Major Bennett, Alan Fowler of Pittsburgh, a captain in Major Bennett's outfit, and Werner Hausmann, a member of the French underground "adopted" by the major's unit. "There is a feeling in Sarreguemines today that Major Bennett is somewhat like a patron saint," Mr. Ettlinger said. "He has been compared to Father Christmas. He was a very extraordinary man, a natural leader and organizer who turned the city around in three months." The American major arrived in Sarreguemines on Dec. 21, 1944, with 11 G.I.'s, two French liaison officers and Mr. Hausmann. Three days later, on Christmas Eve, Nazi forces broke through American lines to the north and mounted a secondary attack on the American lines in the seven miles between Sarreguemines and the German border. Instead of a sleigh and reindeer, Major Bennett prepared for his Christmas voyage by commandeering any vehicle he could get his hands on. His convoy then braved heavy shelling and bombing and nearby infantry combat in search of food, water and medical supplies desperately needed by Sarreguemines, which had become a gathering point for refugees. He Solved All Problems. Major Bennett was also credited with boosting the morale of residents by persuading them that the German threat was only temporary and that the Allies would win. When the Germans retreated in January 1945, Major Bennett helped revitalize the town by restoring electricity and water and finding housing, supplies and medical care for those in need. "It was a city that was nearly destroyed," Mr. Ettlinger recalled. "There was very little food, no electricity, no gas, no water and housing was so bad that 2,800 people were living in a cave. He solved all those problems." By March 1945, the town was on its feet again and Major Bennett and his men left after the American major was presented with a history of Sarreguemines that had been copied onto gold leaf paper by one of the town's schoolchildren. Mrs. Bennett said she still had the booklet. "It has been a very moving day," Mrs. Bennett said after the dedication ceremony. "It felt so good to know that the people of Sarreguemines have not forgotten after all these years."