Hale Bennett was known for his quiet, calm resolve during his decades of high-profile work in Carson City.
But the former Army Air Corps captain wasn’t always shy when asked for recollections from his service in World War II and the Korean conflict. He vividly described how his squadron pulverized targets in France on D-Day, dealing the knockout punch against the Nazis in a war that will forever define his generation.
Aviation was one of Bennett’s greatest passions, and he died Sunday morning not far from the runways and hangars at Silver Springs Airport. He and his wife, Kay, had moved to a house there 14 years earlier to take on the daunting task of turning an abandoned airstrip into a thriving airport — one that has become a centerpiece of Silver Springs and recently was named a U.S. military drone-testing site.
Bennett had been battling multiple myeloma since 2005, and his condition took a sharp turn for the worse in late February, said his wife. Myeloma is a cancer that starts in plasma cells. He would have turned 94 on St. Patrick’s Day.
Hale Bennett was born in Seattle, the son of Burt and Hazel. He joined the Army Air Corps while in his second year at the University of Washington and on D-Day was a member of one of the final squadrons of B-26 Marauders to bomb the beach — a position reserved for the Corps’ most accurate bombers. He was both descriptive and blunt in a 2013 interview about that fateful day.
“We pulverized that entire transport system in France,” he said then. “We were accurate putting bombs in the end of rail tunnels. So we took out railroad bridges, took out all the tunnels, started taking out (Nazi) housing.”
After returning stateside and settling down in Seattle, Bennett wed Marge Perkins in 1951, entering a marriage that would continue through her passing from cancer in 1982. During his brief service in the Korean conflict, he trained bomber pilots.
The couple’s only child, Lynne, was born two years later, and the family moved to Reno then. In 1961, they headed south to Carson City. Bennett worked in a variety of visible jobs over the following years, serving as the chief of registration and titling for the Department of Motor Vehicles and director of the Department of Data Processing, as well as on the Carson-Tahoe Hospital board of trustees.
Carson City physician Delmar Snider got to know Bennett through their work with the hospital in 1984, and a 30-year friendship with the Bennetts was born.
“I got to know Hale pretty well,” Snider said. “He’s a very competent manager, a good leader and soft-spoken; he was always a gentleman.”
Hale Bennett met his second wife at a party held by a hospital administrator in 1987. Both were members of the hospital’s board of trustees; Kay was a nursing supervisor who was on the Carson City Board of Supervisors at the time. They wed less than a year later.
“He was such a good guidance; he was my compass,” she said Thursday. “So enabling, and yet perceptive.”
Kay Bennett, also a pilot, said her husband had made the world a better place “through his incredible contribution to World War II; through the contribution of his time, talent and energy for the state of Nevada; through his enabling of me to be the person I am; and as the bedrock and facilitator for the rehabilitation of the Silver Springs Airport.”
Carson City’s Russ Bowton said Hale Bennett hired him for a data-processing job in 1960. Bowton, who relocated for the job from Boulder, Colo., retired 27 years later and said he remained friends with the Bennetts.
“We used to sit around talking about his experiences in the military, and he was very proud of what he accomplished,” Bowton said, adding that he helped Bennett track dates and times for some of the actions in which he was involved in World War II.
Lynne Bennett, who now lives in Port Townsend, Wash., described her father as an intelligent man with a great sense of humor.
“I remember when I was a small child, he told me I was his favorite daughter,” she said. “I actually felt pretty good about that — until I realized that I was an only child. It was a running joke for decades. Now I’ve lost my favorite father.”
Kay Bennett said her husband died in peace, surrounded by family members and friends.
“Needless to say, I’m profoundly — profoundly — saddened at his loss and will be for a long time to come,” she said. “But I’m so grateful for all the love and support surrounding him.”