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Documenting 100 years of life through celebration at state veterans home

  • Joe Bennett was overcome by emotion at the surprise 100th birthday party the New Hampshire Veterans Home’s town hall on Thursday, April 26, 2018. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Joe Bennett gets a kiss from his sister-in-law Lorraine Boisvert of Manchester during his 100th birthday party at the New Hampshire Veterans Home in Tilton on Thursday, April 26, 2018. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • WWII Veteran Joe Bennett turned 100 on Thursday, April 26, 2018 and his relatives held a birthday party in the Town Hall auditorium at the New Hampshire Veterans Home. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Joe Bennett gets a hug from his great grandchildren Daniel and Marya Nine at his 100th birthday party at the New Hampshire Veterans Home in Tilton on Thursday, April 26, 2018. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Joe Bennett gets greeted by friends and family at his 100th birthday party at the New Hampshire Veterans Home in Tilton on Thursday, April 26, 2018. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Joe Bennett gets greeted by friends and family at his 100th birthday party at the New Hampshire Veterans Home in Tilton on Thursday, April 26, 2018. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff



Monitor staff
Friday, April 27, 2018

The signs told the story of Joe Bennett’s life. 

The colorful papers lined the walls of the veteran’s home, representing 100 moments – some big, some small.

The first, from 1918, told of Bennett’s birth, the end of World War I and a win for Bennett’s favorite baseball team, the Boston Red Sox. The team wouldn’t win again until he was 86 years old. 

Four notes pinned up in a line were dedicated to time he served overseas in World War II from 1942 to 1945. 

In 1946, Bennett married his wife, Rita. A few years later, in 1953, the double-helix was discovered. The notes on the wall marked more modern wars, like Korea, Vietnam, and the modern war on terror. 

“It kind of gives you a perspective about what it’s like to live 100 years,” Bennett’s daughter, Sue Byrd, said, looking around the room. “You see a lot of amazing things.” 

Bennett turned 100 years old on Thursday. He was welcomed to a party in his honor at the New Hampshire Veteran’s Home in Tilton by a slew of caretakers, family and friends – many veterans themselves – sitting at tables decorated with green and purple tablecloths as they sang to him and ate cake. 

He wore a handmade black birthday hat with his name written on it in colorful letters as he was wheeled into the town hall auditorium. 

“I don’t know how this happened, but I’m glad I’m here,” Bennett said, looking around the room as a line of guests formed to greet him.

His family made crossword puzzles and handed them out to party-goers. Each question on the puzzles corresponded to a sign on the wall.

Bryd, of Goffstown, said she comes to visit him twice a week at the Tilton veteran’s home. Bennett lived in Manchester for many years as a grocer and theatre manager, before moving there two years ago. 

“Because he’s so far away, he doesn’t get a lot of company,” Byrd said. “It’s easy to feel forgotten. People are his most favorite thing when they come to visit.” 

Bennett served in the United States Army from 1942 to 1945. Bennett’s stepson, Tim Byrd, said he doesn’t talk about the war too much. When he does, he tells funny stories, not difficult ones. 

One story Benett told Bryd was about when he was in England waiting to sail across the channel for D-Day. One night he was walking across a field in the pitch dark and he heard an ominous noise he thought might be enemy troops. He later realized the noise was coming from a cow. 

“He always said, ‘that was the happiest I have ever been to run into a cow in my life,’” he said. 

Recreational therapist Amy Bruneau complemented Bennett’s sense of humor. 

“Every morning I go in his room and he’s there sticking his tongue out at me,” she said. “He makes my job so much fun.” 

Bennett’s granddaughter Christen Nine was there with her two young daughters, Bennett’s great-grandchildren, Daniel and Marya. Nine said she moved down the street from Bennett a few years before he moved away from Manchester in 2016. 

“I am so grateful that I as a 32-year-old, have had the chance of touching a little bit of his generation,” she said. “I feel like it’s made me a better and a richer person.” 

(Leah Willingham can be reached at 369-3322, lwillingham@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @LeahMWillingham.)