Injuries have not stopped veteran

Chris Thelen/Staff
World War II veteran James Bennie has lived around the world, but settled in Belvedere with his family in 1990.

BELVEDERE - Jim Bennie is what he likes to call "independent."

 

And he doesn't think of himself as 85 years old.

That, the Belvedere man said, might be his downfall.

"I think my mind is about 21 years old," Mr. Bennie said. "That's my problem. I think I'm 21 and can do anything I want to do, such as getting up on a ladder and cutting limbs."

Back in May, that didn't work out so well for the World War II veteran and former Air Force master sergeant.

When the ladder slipped, he fell six feet to the ground - fracturing his pelvis multiple times, breaking ribs and losing so much blood he needed a transfusion.

But even with a cane - up until this month he was wheelchair bound - James Wilson Bennie is still spry and making jokes.

The once "rowdy young man" just needs some help these days getting around.

Moving is something Mr. Bennie has spent much of his life doing.

Born in Polmont, Scotland, Mr. Bennie's family migrated to Boston in 1930, when he was just 8 years old. He wasn't destined to stay, however.

Ten years later, he left Boston, "and I've been on the road ever since."

Working as an aircraft mechanic for the civil service, he was drafted in 1941 into the Army Air Corps, but his "rowdy" ways were about to get him trouble with his superiors.

"So I volunteered to go overseas," he said.

First, there was India, then China, where he was part of the 17th fighter squadron, the 5th Fighter Group. He'd spend the rest of the war there, working on planes.

Mr. Bennie - who was discharged after the war ended, only to be recalled from the Air Force Reserves for Korea - ultimately retired in 1977 as a master sergeant.

He served through Korea, the Cuban Missile Crisis and Vietnam. He got married, had children and was sent around the globe.

He and his wife, Elsie, had their two daughters, Molly and Ann, while he worked in Miami for Eastern Airlines, they and adopted 5-year-old Joe when Mr. Bennie was stationed in Japan.

Over his lifetime, Mr. Bennie has lived in or been to a half-dozen countries and at least nine states.

He and Elsie moved to Belvedere in 1990 from Honolulu, and he's been indulging his miniature sailboat hobby and interest in electronics gear and computers.

"Just because you're older doesn't mean you don't have to pay attention to what's happening," he said.

Until last May, things have been going swimmingly, he said.

Hospitalized initially, he needed a caretaker and a wheelchair when he attended a reunion of the 5th Fighter Group Association in Las Vegas earlier this month, he said.

Now aided by a cane, Mr. Bennie hasn't been able to do things he's used to: Moving around by himself, working on his miniature sailboat hobby and driving himself wherever he wants to go.

His goal, he said, is to be off painkillers and be without the cane by Oct. 3.

"I'm getting sick and tired of waiting for people to drive me where I want to go," he said.

He said he hasn't liked the loss of independence he's endured since his fall, sympathizing with others his age whose health doesn't allow them to move around even as much as he does now.

While he was hospitalized, he complained in jest, his daughter and son-in-law "organized" his belongings.

"Now I can't find my junk!" he said.

He said he has at least another year on the sailboat that has been in progress for two years already, but he hasn't been able to putter with it because of his injuries.

Looking around his hobby room, full of model supplies and family photos, he said, "I have a mess, but it's my mess."

Reach Sandi Martin at (803) 648-1395, ext. 111, or sandi.martin@augustachronicle.com

James Wilson Bennie

Age: 85

Profession: Retired Air Force

Family: Wife Elsie, two daughters, one son, five grandchildren, four great-grandchildren

Hobbies: Building miniature sailboats

Quote: "Just because you're older doesn't mean you don't have to pay attention to what happens."