On Feb. 3, a day before his 100th birthday, well-wishers gathered outside the home of Josiah V. Benator in Toco Hills.
“He, his wife Birdie and some of his grandkids and great-grandkids came out to greet us,” recalled Benator’s neighbor Robin Saul. “He was feted with balloons, cake and cards. Sporting his WWII veteran’s cap, he vigorously pumped his fist and said, ‘I don’t drink or smoke, and I exercise daily. We didn’t want to fool around because it’s important to us to live a long life. You have to take care of yourself from 70 to 80 in order to make it to 100.’”
In good weather, the Benators are known to stroll around their cul-de-sac with their walkers (and their caregiver); in bad weather, they walk up and down stairs in their home.
Benator was so touched by the gathering that he stayed up late that night, reading all the birthday cards and making a note of the names of his well-wishers so he could thank everyone.
Birthday Zoom calls continued for the next few weeks as family, friends and fans expressed their love and respect for the impact he had had on their lives.
The family patriarch is a highly-decorated World War II veteran — and, by all accounts, the longest-serving scoutmaster in the United States.
Benator is also a welcoming member of “The Greatest Generation,” who candidly shares his story of responsibility, duty and commitment. He displays a keen memory as he talks about his long and fulfilling life.
Benator was born in Atlanta on Feb. 4, 1922, to a family that had emigrated from the island of Rhodes. He studied industrial management at Georgia Tech, worked as a teacher’s assistant to pay the tuition and was an active member of the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC). After graduating in 1943, Benator enlisted in the army as an officer. In 1944, at the age of 22, he was sent to France as a member of the 10th Armored Division.
Benator still recalls it vividly. “On Dec. 16, 1944, we were in the northwestern forests of Europe,” he remembered. “It was a frigid winter, and the landscape was overtaken with fog and snow. Suddenly, mortar shells began raining down. This surprise attack was the last-ditch effort by Nazi-controlled Germany to break apart the Allied forces in the surrounding area.”
For the Americans, the Battle of the Bulge would go down in history as the bloodiest battle of the war. One month later, Benator came face to face with death.
“I was in my foxhole, and a mortar shell dropped right next to me. I suffered shell shock, a serious concussion, permanent damage to my hearing and shrapnel in my hand, which required serious surgery.”
After the war, he continued to serve in the military until 1946, earning a Purple Heart due to his injury in battle, a Bronze Star for meritorious service in a combat zone, a Presidential Unit Citation, an American Campaign Medal, a European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with 3 bronze service stars, a World War II Victory Medal, an Army of Occupation Medal with a Germany Clasp, a Combat Infantryman Badge, a French Foreign Legion of Honor medal and many other honors.
But Benator wasn’t finished serving others. When asked about his proudest achievement, he doesn’t miss a beat. “Scouting,” he answers.
Benator, who reached the rank of Eagle Scout as a teen back in 1934 and has the badges to prove it, became a scoutmaster after the war, serving Boy Scout Troop 73 in that role for more than 70 years. His troop originally met at Congregation Shearith Israel, where Rabbi David Gefen and Rabbi Alvin Sugarman were two of his boy scouts. When Shearith Israel expanded their building in 1958, Troop 73 moved to Congregation Or VeShalom, which became its permanent home.
Fifty-three Eagle Scouts have come out of Troop 73, which has led the annual Atlanta Purim Parade for more than 25 years. Benator also served as scoutmaster for Troop 11, at the Howard School for the Developmentally Disabled, and has been widely recognized with numerous prestigious scoutmaster awards. His 86 years with the Boy Scouts culminated last year, when he retired at the age of 99.
When Benator returned from Europe, he married Birdie Benveniste. They raised seven children and are grateful for 13 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. The couple first met when Benator tutored Birdie when she was in high school.
They lived one block apart on Pryor Street and both families were active at Sephardic synagogue Or VeShalom. Birdie moved to Washington, D.C., but Benator saw her again in 1944 when he went to visit his sister in New York, and stopped in on the way.
They wrote to one another during the war, and when Benator returned, he “invited Bertie to be my guest at a special celebration for war vets at Or VeShalom.” Even though she was living in California at the time, she accepted. A few days later, another party was arranged by her relatives and Benator was invited. The party was on Tuesday; the two became engaged the following Sunday.
Beyond his devotion to scouting, Benator’s commitment to Jewish and secular humanitarian causes is part of his DNA. He has been honored with the Hadassah Myrtle Wreath Award for Lifetime Love and Encouragement of Children in 1975, Channel 11 Community Service Award in 1996, Community Service Award through Scouting in 2020, the Mary and Max London People Power Award in 2012 and the West Point Society of Atlanta Outstanding Citizen Award in 2019.
Notable posts include serving as president of the DeKalb Grand Jurors Association and of the Sheffield Civic Club, a neighborhood association.
As the birthday celebration wound down, Benator took the opportunity to don his WWII army jacket. “It still fits!” he exclaimed.
One would expect nothing less.
- STYLE Magazine
- Chana Shapiro
- Congregation Or Ve Shalom
- Congregation Shearith Israel
- Josiah V. Benator
- toco hills
- World War II
- The Greatest Generation
- Georgia Tech
- Reserve Officers Training Corps
- 10th Armored Division
- Battle of the Bulge
- Purple Heart
- Presidential Unit Citation
- Bronze Star
- American Campaign Medal
- European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal
- World War II Victory Medal
- Army of Occupation Medal
- Combat Infantryman Badge
- French Foreign Legion of Honor medal
- Boy Scouts
- Rabbi David Gefen
- Rabbi Alvin Sugarman
- Howard School for the Developmentally Disabled
- Hadassah Myrtle Wreath Award
- DeKalb Grand Jurors Association
- Sheffield Civic Club