Tony Bennett's WWII Experience Haunted Him

He fought at the Battle of the Bulge, liberated a death camp, was demoted for having a Black friend
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 21, 2023 12:45 PM CDT
Updated Jul 23, 2023 3:50 PM CDT
Tony Bennett's WWII Experience Haunted Him
Tony Bennett is pictured at his New York studio in 1991.   (AP Photo/Marty Reichenthal, File)

Upon news of the death of crooner Tony Bennett, all kinds of tributes are surfacing about his musical legacy. But a number of stories also are taking a look at his extraordinary experience in World War II as an 18-year-old. As he would write years later, the experience would shape his adult life by pushing him toward pacifism and against racism. "The main thing I got out of my military experience was the realization that I am completely opposed to war," Bennett wrote in The Good Life, his 1998 autobiography. "Although I understand why this war was fought, it was a terrifying, demoralizing experience for me. ... Life can never be the same once you've been through combat."

  • Battle of the Bulge: Bennett, then known as Anthony Dominick Benedetto from New York City, was drafted at age 18 in 1944. He trained as an infantry rifleman, then got shipped overseas, where he soon found himself fighting in the Battle of the Bulge. "Most nights, we'd be awakened by the bombs that were going off around us," Bennett wrote. "On the front line, we'd see dead soldiers, dead horses and big craters in the ground where bombs had exploded." Afterward, his company entered Germany in 1945, where they fought "house by house to take German towns," per

  • Death camp: His regiment's last mission was to liberate a concentration camp near Landsberg, Germany, described as a subcamp of the infamous Dachau, per the Washington Post. "Many writers have recorded what it was like in the concentration camps much more eloquently than I ever could, so I won't even try to describe it," he wrote in his autobiography. "Just let me say I'll never forget the desperate faces and empty stares of the prisoners as they wandered aimlessly around the campgrounds."
  • Racism: On Thanksgiving of 1945, Bennett invited a Black fellow solder, a friend named Frank Smith that he knew growing up, to eat with him, per PBS. An officer stopped them in the segregated mess hall. "This officer took out a razor blade and cut my corporal stripes off my uniform right then and there," Bennett wrote. "He spit on them and threw them on the floor." Two decades later, Bennett would join the civil rights march in Selma, Alabama. "I kept flashing back to a time twenty years ago when my buddies and I fought our way into Germany," he wrote. "It felt the same way down in Selma: the white state troopers were really hostile, and they were not shy about showing it."
  • One good thing: Bennett saw Bob Hope perform while serving, and it convinced him to pursue a career in show business.
(More Tony Bennett stories.)

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