A German who visited Laurens as a teenager 40 years ago returned to thank veterans who helped in World War II and secured democracy for that country.
“Our generation has lived with democracy and freedom since our birth,” said Lothar Bentz of Norderstedt, a city north of Hamburg, during an Oneonta Rotary Club meeting Thursday. “It’s time to say ‘Thank you, America.’”
Bentz, 55, has donated $7,000 to help local veterans as a gesture of gratitude. The funds will be administered through Catholic Charities of Delaware and Otsego Counties.
Len Carson, Oneonta American Legion commander, told Bentz that the funds would be spent wisely, perhaps for transportation for veterans to the state Veterans Home in Oxford.
“Thank you for your kind thoughts in remembering the veterans,” Carson said during the meeting.
Bentz and about 15 German other students visited Laurens in 1973, lived with host families, spent time at Laurens Central School and went sightseeing.
During a visit to Oneonta City Hall in October 1973, Mayor James F. Lettis named Bentz and his classmates honorary citizens. Bentz said this designation and his experiences as an exchange student in Laurens made lasting impressions that prompted his decision to make a donation locally instead of to a national organization.
At Oneonta Rotary luncheon at the Elks Club, Bentz read a letter signed by him and his wife, Maren, saying that they grew up in the 1960s after Germany already had recovered from World War II.
“America had played a major role in putting an end to that war, in supporting West Europe with the European Recovery Program and in establishing democracy and freedom in our country,” they wrote.
In 1948 and 1949, U.S. soldiers kept West Berlin alive with the Berlin airlift, they said, and in 1963, President John F. Kennedy gave a historical speech and guarantee for Germany’s safety.