BANGOR, Maine — A 96-year-old Auburn man believed to be the senior living regimental commanding officer from World War II’s 5th Armored Division will give the last remarks when the group holds its final drawdown during the 66th reunion of the 5th Armored Division Association at 6 p.m. Saturday, June 16, at the Bangor Auditorium.
Retired Col. George C. Benjamin had a 30-year military career with duties varying from escorting first lady Eleanor Roosevelt on horseback to serving as the No. 3 man in the 75,000-person “I” Corps of the U.S. Army. But it is his World War II service that ties him so closely to fellow veterans of the 5th Armored.
“Colonel Benjamin was a lieutenant colonel during the war,” said Galen Cole, a 5th Armored member who organized the group’s reunions in Bangor in 1984 and 1995 and offered to have the Cole Land Transportation Museum host the final reunion June 14-17 this year.
“He will be the senior participating regimental officer of the 5th Armored Division at the reunion,” Cole said, and as such will have the honor of giving the last words to close out the division’s history during a public banquet. “He was involved in all five campaigns in Europe, and was leader of the 85th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron, scouting out Germans.”
Benjamin’s squadron lost the first U.S. personnel coming into Luxembourg, which the 5th Armored Division liberated. Nearly 1,000 from the division of 12,000 men and women lost their lives in Europe during World War II.
Benjamin was interviewed in 2006 by author Don Colson, who wrote “Quiet Courage,” a book of profiles of mostly Maine veterans that was published the next year by Cole Museum.
“You see heroes every single day,” Benjamin told Colson of his war service. “The most vivid part of my whole nine months in combat is the bravery and dedication and the loyalty of the people who were in the units. I was always so proud of my men.”
The Legion of Merit, the Bronze Star Medal, the Croix de Guerre and the Purple Heart were among the 19 awards and decorations Benjamin received during his military career. Though he did not join the service from Maine, he and his wife, Ruth, have lived in Auburn since 1969.
Colson will be master of ceremonies for the June 16 banquet, and Cole Museum will give each person attending a copy of “Quiet Courage,” which includes stories of veterans from World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the global war on terror.
A special invitation to the banquet has been issued to veterans who have one of the nearly 8,000 Maine-made maple walking sticks the museum has given out to Mainers who served in one of the war eras. Those who bring their walking stick to the event will be eligible for prizes drawn that evening, including a 55-inch TV. Stands will be available at each table for the veterans to store their walking sticks in during the event.
But all veterans are welcome, Cole emphasized, and he hopes family members, friends and anyone interested will purchase a ticket and be part of what likely will be the last major World War II activity in the area. Those attending the reunion will come from as far away as South Dakota and Luxembourg.
The evening will include a candlelight ceremony honoring all those from the 5th Armored who have died, and music by the Bangor Area Children’s Chorus, which was organized initially to participate in activities commemorating the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II in 1995.
Those attending the banquet may choose chicken breast, grilled haddock or vegetarian entree. Tickets may be purchased for $15 in person 9 a.m.-4 p.m. weekdays at the Bangor Auditorium. Including a handling charge, tickets also are available for $19 each by phone at 990-4444, 800-745-3000 or Ticketmaster.com. Tickets will be available until June 14 unless they sell out sooner.
For information on the Cole Land Transportation Museum, call 990-3600 or visit www.colemuseum.org.