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Network makes Father's Day easier for war orphans
Members of the American World War II Orphans Network gather at the dedication ceremony for the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Va. L-R, Ed Peters, Hamilton, Va.; Ann Bennett Mix, Fredericksburg, Va.; Donna Allen, Falling Waters, W.Va.;
and Leonard Rorrer Jr., Floyd, Va. Mix is the founder of the network.
(Photo Copyright © 2001-2004 by Vincent Z. Whaley)

By Vincent Z. Whaley
Johnson City Press Staff Writer

(Published Sunday, June 17, 2001)

FREDERICKSBURG, Va. — If there is one holiday that feels lonelier than others for Ann Bennett Mix, it's Father's Day. Mix never had a chance to get to know her father.

He was killed in World War II.

Serving in the 87th Mountain Infantry, 10th Mountain Division, in Italy, Mix's father, Sydney Worthington Bennett, was sent to the front line as a replacement. On April 19, 1945 — Bennett's third day of combat — a sniper shot and killed him near Mongiorgio.

To help fill the void in her life and the lives of others who lost their fathers during the war, Mix founded the American World War II Orphans Network in 1991.

"At war's end, 16 million had served, 405,399 had died and 78,773 were missing in action," she said. "More than 180,000 people lost their fathers during the war. Our purpose is to support American orphans of World War II and to honor the memory of our fathers. This is a big deal to us because we lost our daddies."

While attending the June 6 dedication ceremony for the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Mix and other members of AWON recalled their fathers' ultimate sacrifices.

Donna Allen and her husband, Dick, from Falling Waters, W.Va., at the National D-Day Memorial. Donna Allen is holding a piece of a parachute that a German resident gave her when she visited Carentan, France, in 1996. Allen's father was a paratrooper who died from wounds received in action near Carentan in World War II. (Photo Copyright © 2001-2004 by Vincent Z. Whaley)
"Dad jumped at 1:30 a.m. behind enemy lines on D-Day, and they were scattered everywhere," she said. "He was wounded two days later on June 8 and died on June 12 in a field hospital that was set up in a big chateau near Carentan, France."

In 1996, Allen traveled to France and located her father's grave at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in Colleville-sur-Mer above Omaha Beach. During that trip, a former German soldier gave Allen a gift that will always remain close to her heart.

"The residents of Carentan had a ceremony and awarded me the Medal of Carentan due to my father's service during the war," she said.

"Following the ceremony, I began talking to two Germans. One told me he was a doctor on D-Day and cared for more than 400 wounded German and American soldiers. He told me he just wanted me to know that he did care for Americans, too.

"The other German told me he found something shortly after D-Day and had kept it all of these years, but never knew who to give it to. He handed me an intact parachute used by the Allied forces during the invasion and told me he wanted me to have it since my father was a paratrooper."

Sharing their fathers' experiences and searching for information about their fathers during the war are the primary goals of AWON, Mix said.

"AWON members have found their lives and relationships to their fathers transformed by doing research following guidelines we provide for locating records and resources," Mix said. "Additionally, many have applied for benefits they previously had not known were available."

The 50th anniversary of the end of World War II in 1995 saw many war orphans reaching middle age. Mix said she feels war orphans should acknowledge the "far-reaching impact the loss of our fathers has had on our lives."

"The sacrifice did not end for us in 1945, as we have lived with unanswered questions and unresolved grief," she said. "Now we are asking, 'What were the circumstances of my father's death? What kind of man was he?' "

For more information on AWON, send inquiries to P.O. Box 1922, Fredericksburg, VA 22402 or e-mail Mix at mxnva@aol.com.

On the Net: www.awon.org, www.dday.org

Click here for full story on the June 6, 2001, National D-Day Memorial Dedication Ceremony

Click here for more photos from the June 6, 2001, National D-Day Memorial Dedication Ceremony

Story and Photographs Copyright © 2001-2004 by Vincent Z. Whaley and the Johnson City Press,
204 W. Main St., Johnson City, Tennessee 37605, 423.929.3111.
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

596th Signal Support Co., 97th Signal Battalion
47th Infantry Regiment, 9th Infantry Division
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