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After 33 Years, War Hero Gets Recognition

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FORT BRAGG — An army colonel who risked his life for others was recognized Friday as a hero. But the recognition was a long time coming.

"I can remember that evening, that night almost minute by minute," explained Retired Colonel Willard Bennett. "I was very concerned we wouldn't get in because of the tremendous confusion."

Bennett, 67, cannot forget the danger, but he says what he did was just part of his job.

It was during the Vietnam War, November 1965. At 34 years old, Bennett volunteered to go where Med Evac personnel refused to go because of the risk.

As a command pilot, he landed his Huey amid enemy fire. He picked up the wounded and even repositioned the aircraft at one point so he would not leave anyone behind.

"That's what we were there for. We supported the infantry, and that was our mission, to do it," said Bennett.

Finally, 33 years later, a Silver Star was pinned to his chest as members of his unit, the 229th Aviation Regiment, looked on.

Bennett's heroic action may have gone unnoticed forever if it wasn't for a longtime friend and former unit member.

While researching a book, Retired Colonel Paul Winkel Jr. realized Bennett had not been recognized. He has worked since 1988 to have his war buddy decorated.

"Others in the nation should see what an average normal American did. If he can do it, others can do it," Winkel said.

What he did saved lives, and 33 years later, the country said "thanks."

The Silver Star is one of the highest awards given in the military. Bennett has also received three Distinguished Flying Crosses and a Bronze Star.

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Melissa Buscher, Reporter
Michael Joyner, Photographer
John Clark, Web Editor

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