Injuries have not stopped veteran

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

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

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."

Comments (14) Add comment
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patriciathomas
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patriciathomas 09/24/07 - 05:22 am
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Sounds like the Master

Sounds like the Master Sargent knows how to age, he just forgot how to land.

justus4
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justus4 09/24/07 - 06:46 am
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A story: This guy say he was
Unpublished

A story: This guy say he was "rowdy" and didn't get along with supervisors, so he went overseas. WHAT?! My father faced a court-martial for not walking within a rut that surrounded a ammo dump during WWII. His buck sergeant was a southern racist. This guy, migrating from Scotland got better treatment than my father, who was born & raised in America. Great country eh? ....depends on through whose eyes you are veiwing it.

karmakills123
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karmakills123 09/24/07 - 09:22 am
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justus..this story is not

justus..this story is not about you,It is a great human interest story about a really interesting gentleman who despite his age and injuries still has a zest for life....you could learn a lesson from him if you would take off your race blinders and listen.....you really are one sad little person.

charles yonce
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charles yonce 09/24/07 - 10:01 am
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i lived in belvedere one

i lived in belvedere one time. those guys from that generation do hold on to everything,they never throw anything away.other than that though was this considered newsworthy?boring!

sjgraci
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sjgraci 09/24/07 - 11:02 am
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Since I was a kid, I have

Since I was a kid, I have been fascinated by the stories of WWII vets. Ken Burns' latest documentary and interest stories like this are important history lessons. Listen to what they have to say, they are not going to be around much longer.

xqwbv2
3
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xqwbv2 09/24/07 - 11:17 am
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We'd better listen to the

We'd better listen to the stories of WWII vets while they're still with us, because in a few years, many will pass on into the next life. Many already have. Cherish living history while they're still here.

RN1949
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RN1949 09/24/07 - 11:46 am
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God Bless this member of the

God Bless this member of the Greatest Generation. At least he is not giving up or giving in. Hope he is around for a long time.

karmakills123
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karmakills123 09/24/07 - 12:26 pm
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awww popkorn you sadden me...

awww popkorn you sadden me... :(

charles yonce
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charles yonce 09/24/07 - 02:57 pm
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don't be sad karmakills. as

don't be sad karmakills. as tom brokaw wrote there will never be another generation like that one.i just thought it would be better suited for maybe the n.a. star or a smaller publication.i'm more concerned this wimpy,marshmallow,generation we have now than those who will be leaving us soon.

patriciathomas
42
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patriciathomas 09/24/07 - 04:39 pm
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popkorn, you seem to

popkorn, you seem to epitomize all that degrades this country. Thank you for being so clear.

karmakills123
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karmakills123 09/24/07 - 05:48 pm
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I do not think so PT.. I

I do not think so PT.. I think sometimes popkorn gets his priorities out of order.

glynnisdoo
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glynnisdoo 09/24/07 - 06:51 pm
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I am a close and personal

I am a close and personal friend of the gentleman featured in this story. I can't not even begin to say how dissappointed I was to read this article that was suppose to be featuring one of only a few remaining men from that generation, who served as Flying Tigers in WWII. Not only that, he is a 30 year Vet. of the US States Air Force and he was a Chief Master Sgt. The author of this article did a very poor job - she totally missed her opportunity to write about a very important part of history that lives on in our community today through his presence. Evidentally, she doesn't know her history - she missed the real story of interest.

knighton
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knighton 09/24/07 - 11:13 pm
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I thought she did a great

I thought she did a great job. Exactly what is your point, glynnisdoo? She mentioned his military service, she mentioned his hobbies, she mentioned the fact that even though he's 85, he doesn't live as though he were 85. I don't see what you're talking about. If you wanted a history lesson, then you looked in the wrong section. This was a human interest piece, not a history lesson. This is not to say that history isn't interesting or that his version of event couldn't be interesting. Rather I'm saying that it sounds like this old guy is interesting with or without the war history. He didn't need the history to beef up his story; he sounds terrific without it. Maybe she focused on him. She did great.

outsidelookingin1
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outsidelookingin1 09/25/07 - 12:00 pm
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I agree with knighton. This

I agree with knighton. This was about the man, not history. Sounds as if glynnisdoo is a little too "close and personal" freind, to put in her words. I think it was a very good article.

CleverUserName
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CleverUserName 09/25/07 - 12:30 pm
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Just to clarify one of the

Just to clarify one of the comments, but Mr. Bennie was not a Flying Tiger pilot. During our interview, he said that was misinformation and that he served as a mechanic during WWII in China, but not with the original Tigers.

He never served as a pilot during his military career, although he did so during a brief private career with Eastern Airlines.

I found him fascinating, even without those credentials, and I don't believe that his military career defines him, which is why I also focused on other aspects of his life and personality.

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