Honor restored: War hero who lost medals is re-awarded them
BERRYVILLE -- By his own account, Berryville war hero and missionary David Bennett can recall 12 different occasions over his 64 years when he should have died.
At 13 years old, he almost drowned when he took a boat out to save a fawn. The boat tipped over, dumping him in the lake. Bennett couldn't swim.
In Vietnam, he stepped on a landmine. Later, while still in Vietnam, a bridge he was crossing collapsed and dropped him, fully loaded with his pack, ammunition and weapon, to the bottom of a river. He still couldn't swim.
More recently, while serving as a missionary in the South Pacific, he and a friend were shipwrecked on a coral island. They were believed to have died in the wreck. They almost did. They hiked for three days without fresh water or food until they came to a small native village. They eventually made it off the island and, as usual, Bennett was spared.
Bennett's official residence for the last 15 years has been Carroll County. But his heart, and most of his time, has been spent serving as a missionary in the South Pacific's Republic of Vanuatu.
Warren Rainwater is Bennett's pastor at Northside Missionary Baptist Church in Berryville. The church is the primary supporter for missionary Bennett, whose religious work stretches back over 35 years.
"Shortly after becoming a Christian he felt God's call to the mission field in the South Pacific," Rainwater said. "I've been friends with David since we were in Bible college together."
Bennett has worked at missions in Samoa, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, and for the last 20 years in Vanuatu. "He has been the first white man to stay, and preach, in many remote villages," Rainwater said.
"His ministry has seen the start of 27 schools and 32 churches in the villages on (the island of) Tanna (in Vanuatu)."
"This guy's like the apostle Paul with all his near-death experiences," Rainwater said. "He told me once 'I know now why God saved me all those times before I was born again'," he adds about his best friend's missionary endeavors.
Bennett has seen many no-win situations in his life, he has come close to the end more than many of us. Bennett is facing one of those tough times again.
This time he is fighting cancer and as we all know, cancer fights dirty.
Agent Orange induced prostate cancer, has metastasized into his bones, and barring another miracle, will probably end his life soon.
"He's planned his service... it will be full military," pastor Rainwater says. "He's going to be buried in Fayetteville's National Cemetery."
After Bennett's funeral, the Berryville minister will travel to Vanuatu, a trip he's made many times with ministry volunteers from his church.
"I'll go to the island nation and take some of David's possessions and we'll have a service on Tanna, where has has lived for the last 17 years."
Though not a religious person while in Vietnam, Bennett was the type of man who put his fellow soldiers first, often placing his on life in danger to help save another. In just over a year in Vietnam, Bennett received the Purple Heart, with bronze oak leaf cluster; Air Medal; Army Commendation Medal with three bronze oak leaf clusters and "V" for combat valor; Good Conduct Medal; national Defense Service Medal; Vietnam Service Medal with four bronze service stars; Combat Infantry Badge; Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal; Expert Badge with rifle bar.
Ten years ago, all those medals he earned in the heat of battle were destroyed in the heat of a house fire that ravaged Bennett's home.
Thursday, March 3, U.S. Congressman Steve Womack visited Sgt. David Bennett in hospice care at Concordia Nursing Care Center in Bella Vista.
In a room where Bennett was surrounded with friends and family, Congressman Womack presented the dying war hero with replacement medals and commendations to replace those lost in the fire.
"I had the honor and unique privilege of presenting those medals, ribbons, and badges... to Sgt. Bennett," Womack said. "It is a moment I will never forget... I cannot thank him enough for his selfless sacrifice he made for his country. We owe you a great deal..."
"On Sunday, May 20 at 10:30 a.m. Northside Missionary Baptist Church will conduct a special service honoring the life of our missionary, David Bennett," says Rainwater. "The service will focus on some David's amazing life experiences, which will show how God has worked through David's life."