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‘God’s been good to me.’ Lexington World War II veteran celebrates 100th birthday

If he could change one thing about the world, Glendell Bennett said, “I would change the way people treat each other. I’d make them love one another and enjoy one another. That’s what I would do.”

In his 100 years, Bennett has seen some of the worst people can do to each other in the forms of oppression, segregation and discrimination, but he has, in his words, worked to try “to get justice for all.”

Bennett, a World War II veteran who worked alongside civil rights leaders in Chicago after the war, celebrated his 100th birthday Saturday with a party in Lexington.

“His experiences during the war shaped his worldview and instilled in him a deep sense of duty and dedication,” his family wrote in a news release marking the occasion. “His early experiences with discrimination fueled his determination to fight for equality and justice.”

Bennett was born in Chicago but moved to Texas with his father’s family, as he puts it, “when I was wrapped in swaddling clothes.”

He was a high school student when World War II broke out, and he and a friend jumped on a train and headed to Tuskegee, Ala., where they had heard an all-Black regiment of airmen was training, and they wanted to volunteer.

After they got there, Bennett spent time “clearing brush for landing strips, working in the maintenance of the aircraft, and going up for test rides with the Airmen,” a brief biography of his live states.

Ultimately, he returned to Texas after older airmen urged him to go home and come back when he’d finished high school.

But his time in Tuskegee was over, as he was drafted into the Army and sent to Fort Eustis in Newport News, Va., then on to Europe, his bio states.

“Hitler planned on taking the world over. We stopped that,” Bennett said.

Bennett recalled serving with the Quartermaster Truck Company and the Red Ball Express in France.

“We delivered all the goods and ammunition to the front lines,” he said Saturday. “I’ve been on the front lines many times.”

Was he scared?

“When you’re young,” Bennett responded, “you don’t pay it no mind.”

Service picture of WWII veteran Glendell Bennett during his 100th birthday celebration on Saturday, March 2, 2024. At the Embassy Suites by Hilton Lexington Green, Lexington, Ky.
Service picture of WWII veteran Glendell Bennett during his 100th birthday celebration on Saturday, March 2, 2024. At the Embassy Suites by Hilton Lexington Green, Lexington, Ky.

After the war, he enrolled at Prairie View A&M College in Houston, worked in farming and ultimately returned to Chicago, where he said he worked alongside civil rights leaders including the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

“I’ve been successful all my life and thought I was failing,” Bennett said in an interview Saturday. “But if I was failing, I wouldn’t be here today.”

Bennett was father to nine children and three stepchildren. He has outlived four wives and several of his children.

“I love all my children,” he said. “God’s been good to me.”

A memory table features various keepsakes during WWII veteran Glendell Bennett’s 100th birthday celebration on Saturday, March 2, 2024. At the Embassy Suites by Hilton Lexington Green, Lexington, Ky.
A memory table features various keepsakes during WWII veteran Glendell Bennett’s 100th birthday celebration on Saturday, March 2, 2024. At the Embassy Suites by Hilton Lexington Green, Lexington, Ky.

Bennett has lived in Lexington since 2012, when he moved here to live with his daughter Glenda Bennett Mulder after his wife died.

Daughter Diane Minnifield, a Fayette Circuit Court judge, also lives in Lexington, as do his daughter Kimberly Bennett and son Brian Bennett.

Well into his 90s, Bennett was still driving and working at the Gainesway Community Center as part of the Kentucky Senior Community Service Employment Program and greeting patrons at the Goodwill Industries store on Leestown Road.

Minnifield said each year when his birthday rolled around, they’d usually go out to dinner.

“I kept saying, ‘You make it to 100, Daddy, and we’re having a big party,” she said.

And so they did.

On Saturday, Bennett was clearly relishing being surrounded by his family, who had come from all over the country to celebrate with him.

He pointed out a granddaughter who lives in New York.

“I’ve got them New York to California,” he said of his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Later, Mayor Linda Gorton was expected to make an appearance at the party, and a resolution in Bennett’s honor sponsored by state Sen. Reggie Thomas was to be presented.

Bennett said he didn’t have any tips on longevity. He attributed his long life to the fact that “the good Lord wasn’t ready for me yet.”

Bennett’s cousin Jacqueline Williams said he’s always been a “loving, giving” person.

“He helped my mama feed us many times,” she said.

Williams came in from California to be a part of the celebration.

“I don’t have many cousins that get to be 100,” she said. “He’s a good man.”

“I am Black History” cup along side WWII veterans and Tuskegee Airman military cover of WWII veteran Glendell Bennett’s 100th birthday celebration on Saturday, March 2, 2024. At the Embassy Suites by Hilton Lexington Green, Lexington, Ky.
“I am Black History” cup along side WWII veterans and Tuskegee Airman military cover of WWII veteran Glendell Bennett’s 100th birthday celebration on Saturday, March 2, 2024. At the Embassy Suites by Hilton Lexington Green, Lexington, Ky.