When her father, Richard Bentley, entered Hospice Care of the West, Karen Garber, felt the palpable 11th hour strike on his life until documentary filmmaker, Jay Gianukos, arrived. From behind the video camera, Jay asked questions to guide Mr. Bentley and his family on a tour of his life that will now live on for generations. From his Park Terrace home in Rancho Santa Margarita, Mr. Bentley relived his days serving as a pilot in World War II, prison camp and the aftermath of the war that reminds me of the “Unbroken” movie out in theaters now.
Mr. Bentley is a striking resemblance to Clint Eastwood. As Mr. Bentley tells his stories, we feel as though we have stepped into scenes from Eastwo Hollywood films. Mr. Bentley tells us that it’s relationships with people that make the journey interesting and worthwhile.
Recording his life story gave the family something to hold onto at a time when they felt him slipping away. The life review video program at Hospice Care of the West is the only one of its kind in the country. Life review guides like Jay record wisdom and personal history in an interview with the hospice patient that is then edited with music and family archival photos. The life review video is then given as a gift to the family.
In the life review, Mr. Bentley also talks about how important his mother and grandfather were in building the man he is today. His grandfather travelled from England to America at just 17 years old in search of a new life. Likewise, Bentley turned out to be a wanderlust kid growing up in Minnesota with big dreams of one day living in a tropical paradise. At age 16, he hitchhiked to San Francisco and then made his way down to San Diego where he stowed away on a boat to Hawaii. He landed a job with Filipino migrant workers in the sugar cane fields. The sugar cane field foreman had a reputation for treating the migrant workers like slaves. One day, he tried to push Mr. Bentley, who was a very mild mannered man. Finally, Bentley had enough. He turned around, punched the foreman in the head and knocked him out. Everyone thought he was dead. Mr. Bentley rose to become a local hero and earned the name “One-Punch Bentley.”
He left the cane fields to work for a company that delivered oil to Pearl Harbor. Yet, on the morning of December 7, 1941, he didn’t deliver oil to the harbor but he did see the Japanese planes flying so low that he could see the pilot. The day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, he returned to the mainland to become a pilot to fly in World War II. He flew 31 bombing missions from North Africa to Europe. On the last mission his plane crashed off the coast of Sicily. He swam in the ocean for two hours, until an Italian fisherman picked him up. Upon arriving on shore, he was taken to the Italian war quarters and became a prisoner of war to the Germans. General George Patton liberated the prison camp. So, Mr. Bentley recalled seeing the commander in action on the day of his freedom. After the war, Mr. Bentley became an aerospace engineer. As the Project Manager of the Early Bird-Syncom Satellite, he made the first transatlantic phone call a reality.
Some 25 years later when Mr. Bentley returned to Hawaii with his family, his daughter Karen recalled all the Filipinos running up to her father, who was a local legend. They were all cheering “One-Punch Bentley.” He will remain a local legend in Hawaii. And for us, Mr. Bentley will be forever be remembered for serving our country and giving us gems of wisdom to live by.
In the last week of his life, Karen and the Bentley family watched the life review video that Jay created and gave as a gift from Hospice Care of the West.
“Watching the video is like my father is right there in the room talking to us,” Karen said. “It is a real conversation and Jay just brings my father to life for us. He captured the calm and loving presence of our family’s patriarch. The video is just priceless and so comforting for our family. I feel love and pride for my dad when I watch it. And, I tell l my friends they must record their parents’ stories, before it’s too late.”