Issaquah man established fuel stations in the South Pacific during World War II

May 22, 2012

By Christina Lords

When William Bentz enlisted in the U.S. Army in July 1943 to serve in history’s most widespread world war, modern technological communication did not yet exist.

William Bentz, a 92-year-old World War II veteran, holds a collection of materials he obtained while visiting the rededication of the National WWII Memorial in May 2004 in Washington, D.C. By Christina Lords

That meant no cellphones, no Skype, no email.

What he and his wife Onadee did have, however, was V-Mail. Short for Victory Mail, the hybrid mail system used by Americans in World War II to securely correspond with soldiers stationed abroad.

“I wrote what they call V letters,” he said. “During the war times, instead of having your 8.5 by 10 legal paper, they reduced them down … those days you couldn’t run to the computer to get it across and I was certainly too far away to yell.”

William Bentz reported for active duty at Fort Lewis before taking on firefighting training at a WWII U.S. Army camp called Camp Claiborne in Louisiana.

Bentz opted to be what was called service personnel instead of in the infantry because he had a wife and infant at home.

It took 25 days via naval ship to get to his first long-term destination during the war — New Guinea.

“A lot of people don’t think about it, but there were 2,500 to 3,000 troops up there, but they zigzagged going across the Pacific because of submarines,” he said regarding a maneuver that was supposed to make ships harder targets to hit. “Coming home was a different story, of course.”

After spending seven months in New Guinea, he served in the 781st Engineer Petroleum Distribution Company on Leyte Island in the Philippines.

“I knew where he was all the time because we had a code set up,” Onadee Bentz said. “He came home for Christmas before he shipped out and we figured out he was to say, ‘It’s a sunny day today,’ and then I knew what he was going to write. Every sentence after that started with the letter telling me where he was … so if he was on Leyte Island, that sentence would begin with l, then e, and so on. Of course the Army probably wouldn’t appreciate that.”

Bentz put his time training as a firefighter to good use, supervising a pump station that would provide fuel to nearby pilots in the Air Force.

“We went to both places because we got involved with building 10,000 barrel storage tanks, metal tanks for fuel,” he said. “That was our purpose for going overseas.”

Born in Speyer, Germany, in 1920, William Bentz and his mother came to the United States in 1922, when he was just 2 years old. They settled in Washington and he has lived in the state since.

He married Onadee in 1940, and their first child, Judy Watson, was born in 1944. She was 2 years old before William saw her after serving in the war.

“I thought it was a better idea to enlist as a part of the service personnel,” he said. “I could do some good and serve, and not have too many bullets go over me.”

“Or through you,” his wife added.

The job was not without danger, though.

“Of course the enemy, which was the Japanese at that time, they’d still fly over and once in a while it was a little scary,” he said. “They’d let their bombs go up there, but we had our foxholes that we’d get to real quick.”

William Bentz was discharged from the Army in 1946, but he re-enlisted in 1948 for another 18 months. He achieved the rank of staff sergeant while in the armed forces.

In 1952, he took on a custodial maintenance job with the Highline School District.

In 1956, the couple’s son Brian was born. They now have eight grandsons, 16 great-grandchildren and two great-great-granddaughters. William and Onadee have been married for 72 years.

In 1964, William Bentz became the supervisor of building grounds of Highline Community College before he retired in 1978. The Bentz’s have lived at Providence Point in Issaquah for about 10 years.

“We always say he’s the perfect example of starting at the bottom and working to the top,” Watson said. “We’re very proud of him.”

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