Retired U.S. Army Colonel Bennett Greenfield, 84, is a popular fellow at The Legacy Willow Bend, where he and his best friend Charlie give an informal master class in the art of living well. He dines with his “gang” every day, two or three close companions with whom he is collectively known as “The Three Musketeers” and “The Gang of Four,” depending upon who’s there at the time.

“It’s great to have close friends that you enjoy being with,” he smiles. It’s easy to understand the popularity of this charming, erudite, gentle man who lights up every room he visits.

Colonel Ben grew up in a military family and lived on bases around the world. He climbed Mt. Fuji as a 12 year-old Sea Scout, which is what sparked his lifelong enjoyment of physical fitness. He entered the U.S. Army as a Private and says his most proud moment was when his father, a retired Colonel, pinned his bars on, making Bennett Greenfield himself a full Colonel. In a 33-year military career, Colonel Ben had more extraordinary experiences than can fit in a single volume, let alone a simple magazine article.

“I was in Korea before Colonel Sanders fried chicken; I was in Vietnam before McDonald’s; I was in Tokyo with General MacArthur!”

Greenfield was in Vietnam so early (1962) that he remembers being there when “there was nothing to do. We would run. We ran every evening. We would just run, and RUN, and run. Between advising South Vietnam forces, we had time for running, handball, and extremely cold showers! Must say, I was in great shape.  In the evenings, I volunteered to teach English to South Vietnamese Civil Service employees.”

Alas, Colonel Greenfield’s second tour in Vietnam was not so uneventful. He was there for the Tet Offensive in 1968, in the field to determine troop needs when the jeep he was driving exploded in a minefield.

“Sad memories I don’t normally share,” Colonel Ben says. “My driver Josh, who was akin to “Radar O’Reilly of M*A*S*H, drove over an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) that blew the jeep over and killed him. I was thrown away from the vehicle…spent a few days in hospital. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t think of Josh,” the Colonel.says. “A great young man.”

It’s quiet for a moment and the omnipresent Charlie gets extra snuggles. “That was an extremely….sad period of my life.”

“To this day, I believe I’m the only one in Legacy who killed anyone (but that was war, I was supposed to kill the bad guys).”

 

He modestly shares his history, with great respect for our great country and his fellow servicemen. There is not a hint of the stiffness or gruffness one might expect of a veteran Army officer. Colonel Ben is as kindly and merry as they come, and you can still very much see the dapper young man he was. He’s too much of a gentleman to say it of himself, but it seems our Colonel Ben was as close as it comes to being a Jewish James Bond. He was stationed in the U.K. in the 1970s, where he was Port Officer of London and Liverpool in charge of all NATO and U.S. State Department supplies. To understand how truly groovy this posting was and how cool Greenfield is, all you need to know is he picked up his custom Mercedes at the German factory and drove it to London, where his office was upstairs from a pub. The rest was just details. London. The ‘70s. The Stones. Monty Python. Carnaby Street. Colonel Ben.

After that, the well-respected Greenfield was posted to the Pentagon, where he was Director of Transportation & Logistics, in charge of wartime planning.

Colonel Ben is every inch an officer and a gentleman. And a mensch. His last command was the Oakland Army Base, just off the San Francisco Bay Bridge. It was a massive operation and he was responsible for all infrastructure and base activities…overseeing everything in the military community from base housing to a big gym, the chapel, and something very important. Sacred, really. Oakland Army Base was the Department of Defense mortuary port through which every Marine and Army casualty came through to be cleaned and dressed in a new uniform before being sent to their final rest in American soil. It was Colonel Ben’s honor to visit and pay his respects to the military dead and send them off with dignity. He understands that in Judaism this is a mitzvah of true kindness, called Chessed shel Emes. Little known fact til now that it was this humble Jewish officer who blessed so many casualties. For that historical footnote, we all owe Colonel Ben a big thanks and a special salute each Memorial Day, as well as Veteran’s Day.

Having the good fortune of a new friendship with this remarkable gentleman, I emailed him a thank you note on Memorial Day, just to let the Colonel know I was thinking of him. I was blessed with a sweet and very thoughtful reply:

“Charlie and I had a quiet weekend. I’m drafting a letter to the Dallas Morning News Editorial Board.  Just want to reignite my concern that too many people enjoy Memorial day for all the commercial sales. I don’t understand how this relates to remembering those soldiers, men and women, who make the ultimate sacrifice.  Drives me nuts to see all the ads in the papers relating to “SALES”…”mattresses half price”…….; if there is paper space, they may give a few lines about the dead heroes.I’m proposing that the schools DO NOT make Memorial Day a “day off” (to visit the mall to buy things). We need to get students involved. They should not just stay in bed late!!!! Teachers should take students out to the local National Cemeteries and have discussions about what Memorial Day is supposed to represent. They could even have the students plant small flags at each grave site. I hate that Memorial Day is relegated to commercialism.”

I don’t know if our local paper printed his letter or if the school board will consider his proposal but I hope that, with the respect due Colonel Greenfield, the families reading this article will honor his wishes and take themselves and their children to a military cemetery on Memorial Day.

What brought the Colonel to Dallas? “My first position upon retiring was Executive Director of the Dallas/Ft. Worth  International Trade Association, at our Trade Center on Stemons, coordinating between U.S. and overseas companies wanting to do business with each other.”

Bringing his Legacy to the Legacy

“I’m happy here, with my little Man Cave suite, good friends, above average health….and then there is Charlie, a wonderful, SMART, faithful friend….he fills in my life here, he IS my life here.”

Charlie is always up for a walk and gets to patrol the Legacy grounds no fewer than three times a day. He loves the on-site dog park and, as for Colonel Ben, it’s the adaptability of the wellness programs at the community that have allowed him to develop a fitness regimen. After facing recent health challenges, Greenfield believes his active lifestyle led to a quick recovery. Greenfield can be found at The Legacy Willow Bend’s fitness center three times a week, where he walks three miles on the treadmill before moving to other equipment and then finishing off with 20 minutes of water aerobics and a spa.

“I like the spa set to 104 so I can bring in a raw chicken and come out with a cooked one!!!!!!”

(He really does speak with that many exclamation marks. To use any fewer in print, I wouldn’t portray him accurately.)

While Greenfield finds that each activity benefits him in various ways, it’s Tai Chi that gives him the most strength. “I took my first class with John Valenti at Sun Qi Fitness nearly 11 years ago and never stopped.”

Greenfield says that immediately following Tai Chi he is in an almost euphoric state, feeling calm and relaxed in mind and body.

“Most of the students are half my age and half of them have knee, neck, or ankle problems. I think my early military workouts have helped me over the subsequent years to stay in better than average shape. But it’s not just about physical fitness and balance. I spread the word of the value Tai Chi brings to a sense of being and enlightenment, regardless of age,” he says.  “I have to let Dallas Jewish Monthly readers know about this fantastic place! Their website is www.SunQiFitness.com. Check them out. Tell John or Min Min that Colonel Ben sent you!!!”

“It’s important to know your body and what makes you feel stronger, allowing you to keep moving. Growing old isn’t for the faint of heart. There are more than enough changes to throw you off balance, but my daily mindset is to just take it one step at a time.”

Socializing Is Good for the Soul

Charlie is the center of his universe, but Don and Judy Steine are close friends with whom the Colonel enjoys visiting any time of day or during happy hour.

“Don was a marine and he’s my best friend here,” Greenfield says. Then he generously describes his Gang of Four, his buddies Elise and George and the Hollywood starlet, who starred on Sherlock Holmes radio broadcasts with Basil Rathbone, and you see that Colonel Ben has a gift for friendship. Every resident who crosses his path is met with a warm greeting and a friendly chat. The Legacy staff clearly adore him. Alice Carpenter, the Fitness Center director, and Dana Hanks, the Legacy’s Marketing Director, say everyone on campus is a Colonel Ben fan. The appreciation is well-deserved for this active community member.

Greenfield’s retirement is not that differently- paced from his Army or post-military career in corporate logistics. Up and busy early each morning, he always found time to volunteer and he continues to this day. For 22 years now, he has volunteered as a job counselor at JFS, where he teaches resume writing and coaches people on their interviewing skills.

“Every once in a while, I’ll go to Assisted Living and put on a show for them. I’ll screen a movie or lead a game of movie trivia.”

“We’re inspired daily by Colonel Greenfield, who is determined to live life to the fullest,” says Laura Levy, executive director of The Legacy Willow Bend. “We pride ourselves on providing residents with countless resources to achieve whole-body wellness and hope that the dedication of our residents inspires others.”

In early March, Colonel Ben won the 82+ division running the Dallas Parks & Recreation 5K at Fair Park and he shows no signs of slowing down. With Charlie at his side, begging for another tour of the manicured grounds at the Legacy Willow Bend, Colonel Ben is all smiles and ready to greet the day and everyone he meets.