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Tony Bennett served in WWII and liberated a concentration camp, describing the war as a ‘front row seat to hell’

Before Tony Bennett began his seven-decade career in show business, the late legendary jazz singer served his country in the European theater during the latter stages of World War II.

Bennett, who died Friday at the age of 96, was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1944 at the age of 18 and began his service a year later when Allied forces were sent to fight on the front lines after heavy casualties in the Battle of the Bulge.

The 20-time Grammy Award winner later recounted his traumatic wartime experiences in his 1998 autobiography, “The Good Life,” in which he described how serving in WWII shaped the rest of his life.

“The main thing I took away from my military experience was that I was totally against war,” Bennett wrote, according to “Although I understand why the war was fought, it was a terrifying, demoralizing experience for me… Once you’ve been through combat, life is never the same.”

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Before gaining fame as a singer, Tony Bennett served in the US Army during the final months of World War II. (Getty/

After being drafted in November 1944, Bennett – born Anthony Dominic Benedetto – was sent to Fort Dix, New Jersey where he completed his basic training. Bennett became an infantry rifleman at Fort Robinson, Arkansas before being sent to Le Havre, France in late 1944.

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The future Kroner was assigned to the 255th Infantry Regiment, 63rd Infantry Division, known as the “Blood and Fire” Division. He was part of the replacement troops sent to replenish the ranks of units killed during the Battle of the Bulge.

Mark Myers, a Wall Street Journal contributor and author of the book “Anatomy of a Gang,” interviewed Bennett five times about his life, including his time in the military. “Tony believed he was going to die,” she told Fox News Digital.

Myers continued, “When he got that draft notice in ’44, he was sure he was going to die. He just knew it. He felt it. And he was gone.”

In “The Good Life”, Bennett recalls that many soldiers received little or no training before being sent to the front lines.

“Snow covered the ground and there was a front row seat to hell,” Bennett wrote, according to “It was an absolutely terrifying spectacle.”

Tony Bennett in uniform during World War 2

Bennett recounted his harrowing wartime experiences in his 1998 autobiography, “The Good Life.” (

“There’s no training because there’s no one to train Tony and the rest of the group that’s going to show up,” Myers said. “And they’ve got to dig foxholes in the frozen ground. And it’s hard to think that Tony Bennett, in some respects this brave man, is digging as he is. I have to assume that somebody thinks somebody’s digging their own grave. I mean, you’re at war, people are dying, you’ve seen it.”

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Myers continued, “It really took his life at that point. He’s on the front line as a rifleman, and he’s almost killed one night by German eight-millimeter artillery. And he’s learned a very valuable lesson, which is that when you’re on the front line, don’t move. Don’t move, because if you’re going, you’re going to get a spot.”

“Most nights, we would wake up to bombs falling all around us,” Bennett recalled in his autobiography, according to “On the front line, we’d see dead soldiers, dead horses, and huge craters in the ground where bombs had exploded. It’s a joke to me that they make ‘horror’ movies about things like ‘Dracula’ and ‘Godzilla,’ and they make ‘adventure’ movies about war. War is more terrifying than anyone could ever dream of.”

In March 1945, Bennett and his company pushed into Germany, where they began recapturing German cities house-by-house from Nazi armed forces. Singer and about 1,000 other soldiers were later flown off the front lines to see legendary entertainer Bob Hope perform at a USO show.

Tony Bennett is pictured.

The future singer was sent to the front lines to reinforce the Allied forces after the Battle of the Bulge. (Bateman/Getty Images)

“I guess that’s the reward and relief of the whole process,” Myers said. “And he was absolutely taken. He had never seen Bob Hope before. And he saw Hope’s optimism and how sweet he was and how he could win over a crowd.”

“He was loved by all the GIs to boost our hopelessly low morale,” Bennett wrote. “He became a big part of the reason I went into show business, because he made me realize then that the greatest gift you can give someone is to laugh or sing.”

For his final mission, Bennett and his company were sent to liberate a concentration camp south of the Dachau concentration camp in Germany.

Bob Hope at a USO camp event during WW2 in 1943

During his service, Bennett saw Bob Hope perform in a USO show, which inspired him to become a singer. (Irving Haberman/IH Images/Getty Images)

“His unit actually had to fight to capture it,” Myers said. “Many of the concentration camps that were liberated, the Germans had already abandoned and killed as many people as they could and just left everyone there. And when the Allies showed up, they found an essentially empty camp. But in Tony’s case, they had to fight their way into the camp because the soldiers stuck to their guns and stayed there.”

“Many writers have recorded with greater eloquence what it was like in the concentration camps, so I will not even attempt to describe it,” Bennett wrote in his autobiography. “Let me just say that I will never forget the despondent faces and blank stares of the prisoners as they wandered aimlessly through the camp grounds.

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“We immediately got food and water to the survivors, but they had been persecuted for so long, they couldn’t believe we were there to help them and not kill them.”

Myers told Fox News Digital that Bennett would cry as he recalled the terror and fear on the faces of the survivors.

Young Tony Bennett performing on stage in front of a crowd.

After the war, Bennett was transferred to the Special Services Unit to entertain the remaining Allied troops. (Photo by Hilton Archive/Getty Images)

“He was in charge of getting them food and providing them with medical care and logistics,” Myers said. “All these weak people thought they were there to kill them. Even though they had food for these people and even though they had carers and doctors and people running around, and obviously they were very scared, their faces were scared, not eager to kill anymore. People just believed that they would be wiped out by this unit.” And it took him some time to win the trust of these people.

WWII in Europe ended on May 8, 1945 with the unconditional surrender of the German armed forces. Because Bennett served only four months in the war, he had to stay with the occupying forces. He was transferred to the Special Services Unit to entertain the rest of the Allied troops and began singing with the 314th Army Special Services Band under the name Joe Bari.

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Meanwhile, he is demoted and assigned grave-digging duty after having Thanksgiving dinner with a black soldier who happened to be one of Bennett’s school friends. At that time the armed forces were segregated by race. Bennett said his experience with racial segregation in the military led him to become a civil rights activist who later marched with Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma.

Singer Tony Bennett is pictured.

Bennett told journalist and author Mark Myers that he felt “like a completely different person” after the war. (Joseph Prezioso/AFP via Getty Images)

A week after Bennett’s demotion, a colonel found out about the incident and sent him to an orchestra, where he continued to perform as Joe Bari. After the battle, Bennett would encounter Hope again, who gave him the stage name Tony Bennett.

In 1946, Bennett flew home to New York and was honorably discharged on August 15. Myers recalled that Bennett said he felt “like a completely different person” when he first set foot on American soil.

“He said, ‘I was more compassionate. And I was grateful to be alive. Grateful for the rest of my life,'” Myers told Fox News Digital. ‘And he said he had a great sense of justice and injustice after what he had seen.

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Source by [Fox News]



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