Fred Bennett, U.S. Army, 1965-68
Frederick “Fred” Bennett’s parents were Oscar and Florence Bennett and he is from the Sockeye House. Mr. Bennett grew up when there were just a couple trucks and Model T Ford in Hoonah- he didn’t ride in a car until he was almost twenty one years old. He walked everywhere and ran around in the woods on “blow down” trees with his friends, seeing who could get the furthest without falling off. Mr. Bennett said “That lifestyle and growing up that way helped us a lot in basic training.” He learned how to be quiet in the woods and pay attention to what was around him from his uncles and his brothers. “Basic training was nothing… just a little harder than what I was used to.”
He enlisted in the Army and attended basic training in Fort Ord, CA and was then transferred to Presidio of Monterey, CA. Fred was trained as a wheeled vehicle mechanic. He served in Vietnam from October 1965 to September 1966.
His first duty in Vietnam was as a company clerk. One day he was walking around and saw some boats: “Growing up around boats you know you get curious, you gotta go see what the heck they got… there I am down in the engine of this boat, looking around ‘what’s that for, what’s that for’”. About two weeks later someone knocked on his door, “Hey Fred, I understand you’re a fisherman in Alaska… hey, can you run a boat?” Fred answered “Uh, I could probably take it from about here to there, but I don’t know about running it.” He ended up running an LCM-8 ( a river boat and mechanized landing craft used by the United States Navy and Army during the Vietnam War) all hours of the day and night with no lights on and an M14 rifle his only weapon. He would run up side by side to Liberty ships and take on supplies and then unload them on the beach. He finally got the “day shift” and did that until his tour was over.
One day Mr. Bennett was watching some Vietnamese fishing and working on their nets. A young kid who knew some English came up to him and said “My Grandpa wants to know why you are wearing a U.S. Army uniform.” He then pointed to his Grandpa and said ‘You, him, same same.” The boy then pointed at his skin and said it again “You, him, same same.” Mr. Bennett said he had never really thought about that until then. Same height as the Vietnamese, same dark skin. “That really threw me.”
After learning his tour was up and he was headed back to the U.S., he got his first ride on a helicopter- to Saigon- and flew back to the U.S. from there.
While stateside, Mr. Bennett was in Fort Lewis, Washington, returning from working in the motor pool. At his barracks the company clerk informed him that someone was upstairs looking for him. The clerk didn’t know who the guy was and Mr. Bennett was worried that he had done something wrong. He saw someone sleeping in his “rack” and kicked it real hard- who should jump out of the bed but his brother, George Bennett, who had been looking for Fred for three days. George had just received his orders to go to Vietnam and was going to ship out the next morning. A week later, Fred Bennett received a letter from his brother George- from Vietnam.
He has a saying on his wall at home from an old Temptations song: “War. What is it good for? Absolutely nothing.”