When Michael Nesmith and Scott Slusher, from Wounded Warrior Battalion East, stepped up to the bar to get a drink at VFW Post 7315, 91-year-old veteran Ben Benjock offered to pay.
“I am tickled pink to see those young fellows here from Wounded Warriors,” Benjock said. “It really makes my heart feel good.”
Benjock was among the members of the Marine Corps Air Transport Association having a reunion in Havelock last week. They hosted a pig picking to raise money for the Wounded Warriors, five of whom from Camp Lejeune attended.
C.J. McQueen, an association member and reunion organizer, said a $1,000 check was donated to the Wounded Warriors at the event.
“They use that money to buy plane tickets and to get their people moved and to help them out in their recovery,” McQueen said. “All the Wounded Warriors that are here tonight are suffering from some form of combat-related wound, PTSD, and a multitude of other things.”
Nesmith is a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“It’s a great opportunity socializing with Marines from the past and a great opportunity getting up with them, swapping stories new and old,” he said. “I consider them my heroes and am thankful for them for my freedom just as much as they’re thankful for their freedom thanking me all the time.”
Slusher serves as transportation staff NCO for Wounded Warrior Battalion East.
“It’s kind of overwhelming the support,” he said. “They didn’t know what to expect, so when they got here and seeing all the great support, they were really surprised.”
Slusher said the event was good for the younger men.
“It boosts morale, helps their healing and the transition back into the civilian world,” he said.
McQueen said this is MCATA’s 23rd anniversary.
“We started here in Havelock in 1980, and this year we decided to honor the Wounded Warriors,” McQueen said.
“We’re all retired Marines who have long transports or were in transport squadrons. This is the sixth reunion that we have had in Havelock,” McQueen said. “I joined the Marine Corps in 1953 so I retired in 1980, so all of us are about that old.”
He said that the association has 900 members across the nation. About 90 members came to the reunion, which included a tour of Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 252 and a formal banquet at Miller’s Landing at Cherry Point.
McQueen said the event is good for the city because 55 rooms were rented at the Holiday Inn Express for the four-day reunion, so it brings money into Havelock.
Most of all, it gets the veterans together.
“It’s great,” Benjock said. “When you get my age — I’m 91 years old — it’s great to see faces again.”
Benjock enlisted in 1942 and put 31 years into the Marine Corps.
“I miss this part of the country,” he said. “When I came to Cherry Point in 1942, there was nothing here but mosquitoes and swamp, but I drive around and take a look at Havelock and take a look at Morehead City and I just cannot believe it.”
“I started out with SBD, then we transferred into torpedo bombers and at the end of the war I got sent to China for three years and we flew C-46s, Curtis Commandos. I got sent back here to Cherry Point and in 1950 I got a call to go up to Norfolk, get cold weather gear … and then I had a long extended tour in Korea. That’s when I got into R-5Ds and I made three tours in Vietnam in 130s. And I never regretted a day of it.”
Even at his age, he goes to the gym three times a week and walks three miles a day.
Benjock said it is rejuvenating to attend the reunion and meet the Wounded Warriors.
“This is great,” he said. “This will give me another five years to live.”