Veterans Day 2013

Today’s blog is a tribute to my Grandfather, Gene Benedetti, the founder of Clover and in my humble opinion the most remarkable man I have ever known.

His life story epitomizes the American Dream. He was born on December 19, 1919 and was the youngest son of immigrant Italian parents. He, along with his sister, brother and parents lived in Sonoma during his young childhood until they moved to Cotati, CA., where they bought 13 acres and ran a small farm, just enough to sustain their humble lifestyle.

My Grandfather went to school locally: Petaluma High School, Santa Rosa Junior College and eventually went on to University of San Francisco for his undergrad on a football scholarship. He was at the height of his football career and loving college life as a senior when everything changed.

He awoke the morning of December 7, 1941 to the news that our US Naval base at Pearl Harbor had been bombed by Japan. On December 8th congress declared war with Japan and thus began WWII.  My grandfather immediately felt the call to enlist and support his country in any way that he could and so he joined the Navy. Upon his enlistment he was immediately deployed and survived six invasions in North Africa and Europe.

Ironically, the worst day of his life was also his most heroic. It was the day he landed his craft on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944, otherwise known as D-Day. He was a Lieutenant JG and Captain of an LCT (landing craft) and the very first boat to come ashore. It was one of the bloodiest battles of the war and few men survived that day.  His brother, Dante, who was a Marine Corporal Dive Bomber was not so lucky and was shot down in the battle of Guadalcanal.

My grandfather’s time in the Navy was not one that he spoke about often.  “When you talk about it you have to remember it and I didn’t want to remember it. I was lucky to live,” he once said.

Despite the death, horrors and tragedy that he witnessed during WWII, I know that it was also a time that shaped him to be the man he was.

After the war he left the Navy, with a Silver Star for bravery for his actions on Omaha Beach.  Upon his return to Sonoma County, he married my grandmother Evelyn and started their family. His love for football continued with him as he started coaching at Santa Rosa Junior College. A few years later, his career in the dairy industry began at the Petaluma Cooperative Creamery where he eventually became the general manager before starting his own business, Clover Stornetta Farms.

Gene embodied the “Greatest Generation.” He lived through the depression; WWII; went to college at a time when college was considered something only for the “elitist;”  married and had a family; started a successful business (which is still thriving and now being run by his grandchildren); and leaves a legacy deep within the folds of Northern California agriculture.

His love for his country, family and friends is unmatched. On this Veterans Day, I thank you Pops for all that you have done for our country, community and our family. There’s not a day that goes by that we don’t think of you. God Bless you Pops, God Bless all of our Veterans and God Bless America!

Side note: the 13 acres is still in the family. My husband and I and our 2 kids live in my Grandparents old house, my second cousin and his wife live down the hill in the original farm house, and another second cousin of mine lives in her parent’s old house (Gene’s sister). God Bless America was his favorite song, and whenever the family gathers, we sing it in his honor.