July 22, 2023


Tony Bennett saw racism and horror in World War II. It changed him. (Dave Kindy, July 21, 2023, Washington Post)

What were the chances? Thousands of miles from home, in a foreign land devastated by war, old friends bumped into each other on the street.

It was Thanksgiving Day, 1945, when two U.S. Army soldiers met unexpectedly in Mannheim, Germany. Part of the occupation force in a conquered city that had been leveled by Allied bombing during World War II, they had sung together only a few years earlier in a musical group back in high school in New York City.

The young men decided to spend the rest of the day together, attending a church service and then having a turkey dinner. At least, that was the plan. Their impromptu reunion was cut short just before the meal.

Tony Bennett, singing star with an enduring second act, dies at 96

An Army officer blasted the two soldiers -- one Black and the other White -- with a hate-filled rant for being together in public. In the segregated military of the day, the two men were not allowed to socialize. Back then, the punishment for Black and White soldiers associating with one another was more severe than if they fraternized with civilians in occupied Germany.

The White soldier's experiences in the Army had a profound effect on him. The 19-year-old corporal -- who also survived the horrors of combat and witnessed unspeakable atrocities while liberating Nazi death camps -- vowed to become a pacifist and to work for racial harmony.

Anthony Dominick Benedetto made good on his promise when he later marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, Ala., under his professional name: Tony Bennett. The experience prompted the legendary singer of jazz songs and American standards, who died Friday at 96, to speak out for peace and equality for the rest of his life.

"I couldn't get over the fact that they condemned us for just being friends, and especially while we served our country in wartime," Bennett wrote in his 1998 autobiography, "The Good Life." "There we were, just two kids happy to see each other, trying to forget for the moment the horror of the war, but for the brass it just boiled down to the color of our skin."

Posted by at July 22, 2023 8:15 AM