TILTON — A World War II veteran, who served with General George Patton’s 2nd Armored Division, was honored at the New Hampshire Veterans Home on his 100th birthday Thursday.
“I don’t know how in the hell this happened, but I’m glad to be here,” said Joe Bennett when he was asked to speak to the 60 or so family members, residents and staff of the home who gathered to honor him.
Bennett, a Manchester native, has been a resident of the home for two years and is well known for his friendliness and sense of humor.
He served in the Army from May 1942 until November of 1945.
He said he served in a tank outfit “Hell on Wheels” that rolled through North Africa, Italy, France, Holland, Belgium and Germany, where it ended up following Russian troops in Berlin.
He said that when his 67th Armored Regiment landed at Normandy on June 11,1944, the tank landing ship he was in struck a floating mine at the beach. The ship sank within an hour with loss of lives, many injured and the loss of all vehicles and equipment on board.
After the war, he returned to the Queen City, where he married his high school sweetheart, Rita.
He worked as a grocer, a coat-maker, and managed movie theaters and the former Pine Island Amusement Park in the summer.
He was married to his wife for 59 years before her death in 2005, and had two daughters, three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
His son-in-law Tim Byrd of Goffstown said that Bennett used to tell one story of his overseas experience with particular relish.
“He was in England waiting for D-Day and was walking back to his base on a dark night. He decided to take a short cut across a field and heard a strange noise. He reached out towards the noise and felt a large, furry creature. It turned out he was in the middle of a field surrounded by cattle. He said he was never so glad as when he realized that it was a cow he was touching,” said Byrd.