Wednesday, June 27, 2007

D.J. (David J.) Bentz III dies 'of wounds suffered when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle'

A 2004 Clayton High School graduate known for his "big smile" was killed Wednesday in Iraq, after his unit came under attack, his uncle said.

U.S. Army Pfc. David J. Bentz III, 20, of Newfield, died after the vehicle he was operating was reportedly struck by an explosive device in Baghdad.

"I'm just devastated," Robert Bentz, his uncle, said when reached by telephone Thursday evening. "He's the only nephew I have. Him and I were very close. It's a very troubling time for me.

"It's a real shame because they are sending kids to fight an adult war, to fight an enemy that hides from you," Bentz added.

The Department of Defense reported on Thursday that 14 American soldiers were killed in the past 48 hours while fighting in Iraq. Specifics were not released.

According to the uncle, several other soldiers were killed when Bentz's vehicle came under fire.

Pfc. Bentz had been in Iraq six weeks.

"To me, it seemed like he enjoyed being there," said Robert Bentz. "He was proud he was doing something for his country."

Bentz said his nephew had dreams of being a paratrooper.

Bentz III was the son of David Bentz Jr. of Newfield and Lena Butterworth of Millville. He also had a younger sister, his uncle said.

Bentz's father, David Bentz Jr., doesn't even know about what happened, according to Robert.

"My brother is very sick right now," he said. "He's in the hospital. I discussed it with the doctors, and they don't think he can handle it."

Bentz III, who went by the name "DJ,'' played four years of soccer in high school. He also enjoyed fishing and other outdoor activities, his uncle said.

His former coach described the young Bentz as a "good, little player."

Standing only 5 feet, 7 inches tall and weighing about 130 pounds in high school, Bentz was one of the smallest kids on the field, Clayton High School Athletic Director Dan Antonelli recalled on Thursday.

"He made up for all the rest in heart out there," Antonelli said.

The two were next-door neighbors for several years in Clayton.

"He was a very determined little guy who always had a smile on his face," Antonelli said. "I'm just shocked right now. You never think anything like this could ever happen, especially to a small community."

Bentz III joined the military earlier this year. He completed his basic training in Georgia and was last home just before Memorial Day. His grandfather, the late David Bentz Sr., also served in the Army and was active during the Korean War.

Bentz III had been delivering pizzas before enlisting, his uncle said.

"These days, kids find their way into trouble. We didn't want DJ to get on the bad road," Bentz said. "We thought the service would do good for him."

Bentz said he last spoke to his nephew two weeks ago.

"He said, It's really hot here, 120 degrees.'

"I was joking to him, telling him he was going to whittle away to nothing," Bentz said. "I told him I was proud of him."

From the Bridgeton News