Tony Bennett impressed millions of people with his singing, but he once told Howard Stern how he himself was influenced by an experience he had when he was young.
After Bennett died Friday at the age of 96, a 2011 interview about his World War II service resurfaced online. In the video, Bennett explained what his time in the infantry was like, below Help liberate a concentration campmade him a pacifist.
“I really don’t like war,” he said on Stern’s talk show. “For me, life is a gift and one should enjoy it. It’s a great gift. Being alive is the best thing that could ever happen.”
Bennett was drafted into the war as a teenager. Though he said he was scared, he wasn’t the only one.
“The Germans were afraid. We were afraid. “No one wanted to kill anyone while we were on the phone,” Bennett said. “But the weapons were so strong that they defeated us and everyone else.”
Although Bennett became a corporal, he told Stern that he had “the skin of a fanatical captain cut off” because of his friendship with a comrade who was black.
“He was the greatest guy,” Bennett recalled. “He was an amazing drummer and we went to high school together.”
They met at a harvest festival during the war in Germany.
“He took me to his Baptist church and I said, ‘Well, you’re allowing me a guest at the Truman Hotel in Mannheim, why don’t you come to my place?’ We’re going to have Thanksgiving dinner.’”
The friend agreed, but the captain was apparently unhappy that a white soldier was hanging out with a black man, as he told the future star that he now had a new job: digging up the bodies of dead American soldiers to rebury them elsewhere.
It was a terrible task and it changed Bennett forever.
“It took all bigotry out of my life,” he said. “It’s a premise in my life that I think one of the most ignorant things that can ever happen is people being bigoted towards other people.”
Listen to the full exchange in the video below: