Harold George Bennett (1940–1965)
Perry County native Harold George Bennett was a Green Beret serving in Vietnam in 1964 when he was captured in South Vietnam and held as a prisoner of war. He was executed on June 25, 1965—the first American prisoner of war to be executed during the Vietnam War. He was honored with a posthumous Silver Star in 2010.
Harold George Bennett was born on October 16, 1940, in Thornburg (Perry County), one of nine children of Pauline Bennett and World War I veteran Garland Bennett. He was set on a military career from a young age, and on his seventeenth birthday in 1957 he quit school and went to Little Rock (Pulaski County) to enlist in the U.S. Army. Bennett became a paratrooper serving in the 101st Airborne and, after reenlisting in 1960, completed Special Forces training. He was discharged in October 1963 and, after working a few months as a carpenter’s assistant, again joined the army, requesting assignment to duty in Vietnam, where he was deployed in October 1964.
Bennett, who was serving as a radio operator at the rank of staff sergeant, and fellow Special Forces member Charles Crafts were serving as an advisory team with the Thirty-Third Vietnamese Ranger Battalion when they were attacked at Binh Gia in Phuoc Tuy Province on December 29, 1964. Bennett called in artillery strikes to help the beleaguered rangers and warned off several attempts to extract the Green Berets from the battlefield, warning the would-be rescuers that they would almost certainly be shot down. Bennett’s last radio message was that the Vietnamese soldiers were surrendering and had requested that he turn off the radio. Bennett and Crafts became prisoners of war.
Bennett repeatedly challenged his captors and “as a result of his tenacity and insubordination…was blind-folded and beaten, given reduced rations and shackled in solitary confinement for long periods.” He tried to escape from captivity three times, injuring a guard during the third bid for freedom, which may have led his captors to select him for an act of retaliation when several Viet Cong were executed in South Vietnam.
He was executed on June 25, 1965, his 179th day of captivity, with a Viet Cong order of the day calling him “an American aggressor who had committed many crimes against the South Vietnamese people” and stating that his death “serves to warn the United States aggressors and their henchmen who have committed acts of utmost barbarity that the murderers must pay the blood debts.” The U.S. State Department condemned Bennett’s death as a “wanton act of murder.” His body was never recovered. Crafts reported the details of Bennett’s captivity after he was freed in 1967.
In 2006, Bennett’s family was presented with his Combat Infantryman’s Badge, National Defense Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, Prisoner of War Medal, U.S. Army Good Conduct Medal, and Purple Heart. U.S. senator Blanche Lincoln pursued further recognition of Bennett’s bravery, resulting in him receiving a posthumous Silver Star, the third-highest award for valor given to American troops, in 2010. The Perryville Post Office was named in Bennett’s honor in 2016. Harold George Bennett’s name is inscribed on Wall 1E, Line 79 on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington DC.
For additional information:
Field, Hunter. “Post Office Named for Slain POW.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, October 18, 2016, pp. 1A, 2A.
“Harold George Bennett.” Hall of Valor Project. https://valor.militarytimes.com/hero/27752 (accessed January 31, 2019).
Portis, Richard. “Bennett Left School to Join Army, Asked for Duty in Vietnam.” Arkansas Gazette, June 26, 1965, p. 5A.
“Viet Cong Avenge Saigon Executions, Kill Arkansas Man.” Arkansas Gazette, June 26, 1965, p. 5A.
Wecsler, Heather. “Soldier’s Valor Belatedly Honored.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, April 22, 2006, pp. 1B, 3B.
Mark K. Christ
Little Rock, Arkansas
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