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Robert Bennedsen: Honoring a beloved native son

  - Courtesy Photo
— image credit: Courtesy Photo

When Robert Bennedsen was 5, his mother discovered him in the backyard of their Dockton home one afternoon, using the blade from a hacksaw to try to topple a 100-year-old fir tree.

“I’m building a fort,” he cheerfully told his mom, “and this tree is in my way.”

Such was the determination of Tracy and Scott Bennedsen’s only son, a smart, energetic and fun-loving boy who went on to become a star athlete at Vashon High School, win a full scholarship to Seattle University and lead a U.S. Army platoon in Afghanistan.

On July 18, three weeks into his first tour of duty in the war-torn country, Robert — a first lieutenant in the 2nd Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment — stepped on a roadside bomb and lost his life. He had just turned 25.

In the days since Robert’s death, the first Island fatality from the nine-year Afghan conflict, the Bennedsen family home has been given over to impromptu gatherings, where friends, relatives and neighbors have come together to honor and remember this beloved native son.

There have been plenty of tears, Tracy Bennedsen said, but also laughter.

“We have a lot of Robert stories,” she said. “Everybody’s been laughing.”

To those who know Robert well, the circumstances behind his death say much about how he lived his life. Robert’s unit was stationed in Qalat and was charged with running supplies to remote outposts. It was during one of those runs that his convoy encountered trouble: The ambulance in front of his truck hit a roadside bomb and was thrown off course, though no one inside the vehicle was hurt.

Robert could have ordered someone from his unit to pull the damaged vehicle off to the side of the road, but instead he jumped out to help when another IED exploded and killed him.

“It was his way to do it; he was always hands on. He was a real hero,” said Kathleen Davis, a close friend of the family.

Tracy, his mother, agreed.

“If he’d been sitting in his vehicle and one of his boys had gotten blown up, that would have devastated him,” she said.

Robert, born and raised on Vashon, attended Chautauqua Elementary School, The Harbor School, McMurray Middle School and Vashon High School. He graduated in 2004, after stellar football and wrestling careers that won him statewide recognition.

A running back, Robert ran for more than 400 yards in one game, a state record. He also won the state championship for wrestling in his weight class — 160 pounds. He was a versatile athlete — he played soccer and baseball and turned out for track one year. But football was his love, his mother said. When he graduated, he was named the high school’s Scholar Athlete.”

At 5’7”, he wasn’t a big guy, said Rick Sassara, one of his coaches who knew Robert well. “Small of stature, huge of heart,” he said, describing a young man who would sometimes appear at his doorstep with a bucket of Dungeness crab.

“It was neat to see a kid that squared away,” he added.

Robert was also an avid scuba diver who began diving at age 14, was a volunteer firefighter before he knew how to drive and loved repairing cars, his mother said.

“He was so adventurous,” she said.

Besides his parents, Robert leaves behind his sister Jamie Bennedsen of Tacoma, his grandmother Isabel Plancich of Vashon, Ole and Betty Bennedsen of Seattle and a large extended family.

A memorial service celebrating Robert Bennedsen’s life will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 1, at the Vashon High School stadium. All are welcome.

In lieu of flowers, Islanders are asked to donate to the Vashon Bounty Club, which supports VHS football. Send donations to the Vashon Bounty Club, P.O. Box 621, Vashon, WA 98070.

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