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Joseph Houston Bennett: An American Hero and Lake Whitney Legacy

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), Fort Worth District, Recreation Business Line Manager, Three Rivers Regional Office
Published April 6, 2020
"Clash of Eagles" by Roy Grinnell.

The painting "Clash of Eagles" by Roy Grinnell. It depicts the combat between then Captain Joe Bennett of the U.S. Army Air Corps (USAAC) and Oberfahnrich (Lt.) Hubert Heckman of the German Luftwaffe May, 25 1944 near Brackenheim, Germany. Heckman attacked Bennett Heckman's guns jammed. He did not want the P-51 to get away, so he rammed Bennett. Bennett bailed out and Heckman crash landed. Bennett became a POW. After the war, the two became friends and met every year for their reunion.

Portrait of Joseph Houston Bennet

Portrait of Joseph Houston Bennet

Back in the early 1990's, I went to talk to an individual who had called the Whitney Lake office and complained about a neighbors activities on Corps Property in Laguna Park, a small community on the Bosque County side of the Whitney Dam. I went to his house and knocked on the door; an elderly gentleman answered and invited me in. We went and sat in in his living room as we exchanged pleasantries. The first thing that grabbed my undivided attention was a painting that hung over his couch. It was a painting of P-51 Mustang and Messerschmitt Bf-109 fighter planes locked in combat during WWII. As I sat and listened to him talk I noticed other photographs on either side of the painting. They were of two men, standing together, smiling and shaking hands. Being a WWII history nut I waited until the gentleman stopped talking and blurted out "Is that you?" That is how I was introduced to Retired Maj. Joe Bennett, the pilot of the P-51 in the painting. I went on to learn that he had worked for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Fort Worth District at Whitney Lake, retiring after 20 years in 1980. He died Aug. 15, 2000 and is buried in Dallas, Texas.

The painting is called the "Clash of Eagles" by Roy Grinnell. It depicts the combat between then Captain Joe Bennett of the U.S. Army Air Corps (USAAC) and Oberfahnrich (Lt.) Hubert Heckman of the German Luftwaffe May, 25 1944 near Brackenheim, Germany.  Heckman attacked Bennett Heckman's guns jammed. He did not want the P-51 to get away, so he rammed Bennett.  Bennett bailed out and Heckman crash landed. Bennett became a POW. After the war, the two became friends and met every year for their reunion.

 

Joseph Houston Bennett

Born Nov. 25, 1918. Joe Bennett hailed from Morton, Texas. He studied at Abilene Christian College and Eastern New Mexico University, prior to enlisting in the USAAC Apr. 25, 1941. He commissioned as a 2nd Lt. and earned his wings at Stockton Field, California Dec. 31, 1941.

Initially assigned to 54th Fighter Group (FG) flying P-39 Airacobras he was transferred to 356th Fighter Squadron (FS), 360th FG at Groton Field, Connecticut flying P-47 Thunderbolts and thereafter to Goxhill, England by Sep. 1943.

He then transferred to 61st FS, 56th FG Nov. 1943 where he had his first victory against a Messerschmitt Bf-110 on Dec. 20, 1944. On Mar. 8, 1944, in an encounter with 100-150 Luftwaffe fighters, he downed two Bf-109s and a Focke-Wulf Fw-190 to become an "Ace".

He then transferred to 336th FS, 4th FG Apr. 1944. On Apr. 15, 1944 he had a midair collision in and bailed out into the North Sea with a broken shoulder. He was soon picked up by a Walrus seaplane and returned to base where he was off operations for a month. On May 25, 1944, he destroyed two Bf-109s and two Fw-190s. This was when the aforementioned painting earned its muse… He was rammed by the frustrated Luftwaffe pilot who severed his tail section. Bennett he bailed out over Botenheim, Germany and spent some time in a German hospital before being transferred to Stalag Luft VIIa prison camp as a POW for the remainder of the war.

Part of the Army of occupation, he was promoted to Major prior to leaving active duty in Jan. 1946. Credited with 8 1/2 enemy aircraft kills.

His awards include Air Medal with three Oak Leaf Clusters; American Campaign Medal; American Defense Medal; Army of Occupation Meda; l Distinguished Flying Cross with two Oak Leaf Clusters; Prisoner of War Medal; Purple Heart with one Oak Leaf Cluster World; War II Victory Medal; and European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with four bronze stars

Post war, Bennett took up farming in West Texas. After 10 years he moved to Clifton, Texas, and operated a resort on Lake Whitney. After 20 years with USACE Fort Worth at Lake Whitney he retired in 1980.

Source: http://www.americanairmuseum.com/person/133978

Visit the Fort Worth District Web site at: www.swf.usace.army.mil and social media at: https://about.me/usacefortworth