Early Life and Enlistment

Training Prior to Joining the PT Boats

Reporting Aboard PT-470 and Training

Getting to Know PT-470

Overseas Deployment and First Combat Action

PT-470's Kills

Recollections

Doing Some Good

War's End

Reflections

Life Lessons

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Richard Bennett was born 12 October 1924 in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Five days later his parents drove him back to Indianapolis, Indiana where he grew up in a household with his one older sister. His father, who fought in World War I, was in a veteran’s hospital most of Bennett’s young life. He was rarely able to work, and held no job during the Great Depression. Bennett’s mother had a small income from working at a lady’s dress shop. Bennett cut grass and shoveled snow to help with the family’s expenses. Bennett was coming out of a movie theater when he learned the shocking news of the attack on Pearl Harbor. During the war, his mother got a job in the tool shop of a tank factory, and made more money in two years there than at any other time in her life. When he was eighteen and up for the draft, Bennett’s father died and his mother somehow got his entry date delayed for a couple of months. [Annotator’s Note: Bennett cries while talking about his father’s passing.] Bennett enlisted in March, 1943.

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When Richard Bennett went for his military service physical, he was given his choice between the Army, the Navy and the Marines. Opting for the Navy, he went to Great Lakes, Michigan for boot training, and found it cold. As an ROTC [Annotator's Note: Reserve Officer Training Corps] graduate, Bennett was made company commander. He elected to train in radio operations, and was sent to Auburn University. He carried his rank as company commander there. He washed out of radio school because of an undiagnosed dyslexic condition. He was offered the position of athletic assistant at Auburn, but turned it down to serve on a PT boat [Annotator's Note: Patrol Torpedo boat]. Because the PT boats were not yet ready, Bennett was sent for miscellaneous training, including gunnery and aircraft identification. He traveled through a snowstorm to get to New Orleans for training on the PT boats, and picked up KP [Annotator's Note: kitchen patrol or kitchen police] duty for being 24 hours late arriving, even though he had a note from the train conductor attesting to the veracity of his delay.

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While Richard Bennett was in New Orleans, he met a local in a tavern who offered him and a buddy dinner and lodging for the night, and they remained friends with the guy and his wife all the while he stayed in the city. He was assigned to the last of the 15 PT boats [Annotator's Note: Patrol Torpedo boat] in the lot delivered, the PT-470. The vessel had a pre-shakedown cruise in Lake Pontchartrain that scared Bennett near to death. When it was his turn to take the wheel, the skipper yelled "man overboard" and jumped off. Bennett said he backed off a little bit on the speed, managed to get the boat around, slowed again, and ordered everyone to look out for the man. They found him, and Bennett was left at the wheel. As Bennett's rank was radioman striker, the skipper was still rather dubious about Bennett's seamanship, but soon realized that Bennett could take the semaphore and the blinker light faster than anyone else on board, and eventually made him relief on the wheel. When they put the 40mm [Annotator's Note: Bofors 40mm antiaircraft cannon] on, he gave the position of manning the gun to Bennett. Bennett said, without intending to brag, that he became the go-to guy on PT-470.

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Richard Bennett described the PT-470 as being armed with a thunderbolt, which is a 37mm and a 20mm cannon mounted together, two twin .50s [Annotator’s Note: .50 caliber machine guns], two single .50s, four torpedoes, and the 40mm [Annotator's Note: Bofors 40mm antiaircraft cannon] that was put on at the Panama Canal. The PT boats [Annotator's Note: Patrol Torpedo boat] were transported to the Pacific on tankers, and were not easily loaded, considering they were carrying 100 octane gas. Once they were put on board, the PT crew was occupied scraping and painting to make the vessel slick and fast. They were put back in the water at Treasure Island, California. PT-470's crew's quarters had four bunks and four benches, and Bennett said he had one of the berths. The crew stayed essentially the same. The number of crew members varied, some working on land part of the time, but the basic crew on board was about 12. There were two motor mechanics, one quartermaster, one radioman, one gunner's mate, and one torpedo man; everyone else was a contributor. He remembered becoming buddies with Bill Riley, the number two man in the engine room. The radar man was lost and was not replaced so Bennett took over his duties. Bennett felt the 470 had the best quartermaster in the squadron [Annotator's Note: Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron 31 (MTBRon 31)]. One night, after the surrender of one of the islands, the 470 was helping protect against Japanese misdeeds when a weather warning came through. The quartermaster knew they were not going to make it back to base, but because he had been studying maps, which were pretty lousy, while everyone else was playing cards and fooling around, he knew of a small island where they might find some shelter. They approached what looked like nothing more than a mountain sticking out of the sea, and went through a narrow opening. To their surprise, there was already an LCI [Annotator's Note: Landing Craft Infantry] taking cover there, and both vessels made it through the storm unharmed. Another incident Bennett recalled occurred two or three weeks into their tour. Their patrol spotted a ship. He called into base, asking if it was an allied vessel. The response was "no, take it out." Everyone assumed battle positions, but there was trouble getting the torpedo out of tube. The 407 was peddling along, and getting pretty close to its target. When the torpedo was finally launched, Bennett began watching its progress, and noticed it turning around, heading back to their boat. He gave the alarm, and they got the 470 out of there. Bennett commented that on the PT boat the crew was in close quarters and it was a rough bunch. Disagreements were often settled with a fight. Bennett himself was involved in a couple of such clashes. But he said the grudges didn't stick.

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Embarking on their journey to the Pacific, Richard Bennett's squadron [Annotator's Note: Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron 31 (MTBRon 31)] left New Orleans for the Panama Canal, and ran into 40 foot seas between Cuba and Barranquilla, Columbia. Bennett got the 470 [Annotator's Note: PT-470] through six hours of stormy weather when other boats in his squadron were being lost, and won the appreciation of his skipper and crew. When they arrived at the canal they recognized how small their vessel was. They pulled in behind the Missouri [Annotator's Note: USS Missouri (BB-63)]; only the Missouri and two PT boats could fit in one lock. Once the PT boats were unloaded at Treasure Island [Annotator's Note: Treasury Island, Solomon Islands], they immediately left on their first run. There were two Japanese occupied islands in the general area that that were used for target practice. PT-470 missed the target on the first night, but on a closer run the second night, they struck; unhappily, they also drew fire from the Japanese. On the third night, Bennett fired their last torpedo and caught some flak from his skipper for doing so without giving notice. But, Bennett said, his relationship with his skipper grew to one of mutual trust and respect, and Bennett rose in rank from Radioman Striker to Radioman 3rd Class, and was recommended for two Bronze Stars.

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Richard Bennett remembers that it was in the Palau Islands that his vessel had their most memorable encounters with the enemy. He called it "playing games" with the Japanese, drawing fire and turning enemy guns away from the Marines on the island. Close to the end of the war, the 470 [Annotator's Note: PT-470] sank one barge and two smaller boats. The Allies had the Japanese trapped on the islands, but some were slipping away, trying to get back to their homeland. The Allies had dropped leaflets advising the enemy not to leave the island, because they would not make it. Bennett's boat patrolled practically every night, using radar, and one night he picked up at least two boats on his screen. He called base to see if there were any friendlies in the area, and got a negative response. Along with two other PT boats, the 470 fired furiously and took quite a bit of return fire, but when things got quiet, they went back around to the area and noticed the water was red. There were body parts floating around and being consumed by the aquatic life. At the time, Bennett wasn't bothered by the sight because it was the enemy; but later when he thought about it, he found it hard to live with. [Annotator's Note: Bennett becomes agitated telling this story, then starts to cry.] Bennett said that was the end of the war, anyway, and the Navy took all the PT boats that would run to the Philippines and burned them. He noted that there are a few of them still around, and he's visited one of them in a museum a couple of times.

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Richard Bennett recalled a patrol near Palau when PBYs [Annotator's Note: Consolidated PBY Catalina flying boat] picked up two or three Japanese mini-subs, and PT-470 joined two other boats on a mission to destroy them. The boat ahead of the 470 dropped a depth charge that went off prematurely, and the blast bent the shaft and prop of one of 470's engines. Because there was too much vibration, they couldn't use that engine, and the skipper was furious. The 470 had to crawl back to base, but judging from the debris field, Bennett estimates they got two, maybe three mini-subs. Then there was the time that PT-470 went on patrol to find an American pilot shot down close to Japan. Bennett said they had a full tank of gas, and went as far out as possible. When it began to get dark, they turned around and spotted two guys in the water who turned out to be Japanese pilots that had abandoned their aircraft. The skipper made the prisoners strip down to their underwear and they were taken aboard. Bennett and his buddy escorted them ashore and handed them over to the Marines, who threw them in the back of a dump truck and hauled them off. It was Bennett's first up-close encounter with the enemy. He said they looked like little kids, and bad as it all was, he felt sorry for them. He was mad at the Marines, who could see they had nothing on them, for the way they handled them. Bennett said that during the war, he would kill every one he saw, just as he was taught, if they were fighting with him. But his feelings changed after the war, because he was brought up to believe that every soul God puts on the earth has a right to live. Next morning, PT-470 resumed the search for the American pilot, finding him just after noon. Bennett said he was there to do a job, and their skipper kept them moving. At Okinawa, Bennett lived through kamikaze attacks; the docks were below the airfield, and by that point in the war the Japanese were sending up lousy pilots who were dropping bombs indiscriminately; if they didn't hit the airfield, they were content to drop their load late and hit the docks.

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Richard Bennett mentioned that one incident stands out as a proud moment. Out of the 15 PT boats in the squadron [Annotator's Note: Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron 31 (MTBRon 31)], PT-470 was called upon to transport a badly wounded Marine off of embattled Okinawa to a hospital ship that was out at sea. They had to go in close to shore, in the deep dark around midnight, and pick him up out of the water. There was to be a single flashlight signal. The skipper told Bennett to let him know when they reached two fathoms, and he was stumped as to how he could know when they reached that depth. The skipper patiently directed him to use the knots on a weighted line, and the skipper and his crew of five stole in, saw one flash [Annotator's Note: Bennett snaps his fingers audibly], picked up the basket the Marine was waiting in, and managed to get him to and upon the hospital ship. They got word later that the Marine survived the ordeal. Bennett said they all felt like they had really accomplished something. There was also the story of the 470's toilet, which didn't flush. Because it was next to the sleeping quarters, Bennett and his buddy tore it out, thereby removing any temptation to use the facility. In its stead, they built a box on the bow with a hole in it, and many mornings they would wave to the civilians going by while it was in use. Bennett said they had to make do with what they had. They sometimes went without food; their cook was often needed at his battle station, which was to load the 20 [Annotator's Note: 20mm cannon]. They also had a crew member they called Pop who was their procurer. When they stopped in New Guinea, Pop's assignment was to get a tarp to provide some shade on deck. Pop stole a jeep, drove to the Army camp, found an empty tent, rolled it up and took it back to the boat. Bennett said he only remembers the torpedoes being fired twice, and neither time ended in a hit. Most of their fighting was ship to shore, and the 470 became more of a gun boat. Before they had news of the atomic bomb drop, they knew something significant had happened because Bennett's buddy was thrown off his chair during a pinochle game by the vibrations. Bennett said they all commented that they could now be sure of going home alive.

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After the Japanese surrendered, Richard Bennett was last to leave PT-470. He skippered the boat through bad weather when he brought it to their departing ship. When the transport reached the Philippines, all the metal was removed from the boat, and it was burned. Bennett said it was heartbreaking. Bennett went home on the USS Orestes (AGP-10), losing 800 dollars in a fixed poker game along the way. He was discharged 12 February 1946 in Chicago, at the rank of Radioman 2nd Class. He didn't feel like he was out of the war right away, but began wondering what he would do next. He decided to get a degree at Butler on the G.I. Bill, and got credit for his Navy training classes at Auburn. He earned some money as a lab assistant, worked at a filling station, took a job at a flower shop, married and had a child before he earned his degree. As it turned out, he didn't use his education in botany, because he ended up in management. Bennett suffers from nightmares, especially about the incident of the blood in the water, and the fish chewing on a corpse's nose. [Annotator's Note: Bennett chokes up again.] He also has difficulty breathing at night, the result of a nose broken on the loose barrel of the Bofors 40mm autocannon when a wave hit the ship. He manned up at the time, and didn't report it, but has been unsuccessful in getting compensation for the condition.

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Richard Bennett thinks World War 2 doesn't mean much to today's Americans, except for a small amount of appreciation. He doesn't believe they have any idea of the sacrifices the soldiers made. He knows it is important to teach young Americans about the war; he calls to mind a class of individuals he worked with who brought out his best qualities. Those experiences made his post-war life more successful. He comments that he lost a lot of his life during his time in the service, but also gained a lot. He is thankful for the opportunity to tell his story.

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Richard Bennett's transition from sailor to civilian was so wrapped up in school, work and family matters, he hardly noticed it happening. He eventually got a job running a department at PPG, and moved to Pittsburgh for a promotion. When he retired, he was managing a 750 million dollar budget. He admits he is not very smart, but knows how to get a job done. [Annotator's Note: Someone comes into the room.] Bennett fought in World War 2 because he was drafted; he didn't want to enlist and leave his recently widowed mother, but when he was called up, he answered the call. He said the war made him grow up. He comments that it is easy to hurt someone physically and mentally, but it is difficult to treat everybody as equally as you can. Today he is proud of his service, it gave him confidence in his abilities; he knows how to take and to give orders, and how to build confidence in others. Bennett feels his skipper was a good leadership example.

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