Benedetti worked as a cabinetmaker on an Italian luxury liner when, at the start of the war, he and his shipmates were detained by the U.S. government and sent to Fort Missoula. He spent nearly three years at the camp before being released in 1943 and later joining the U.S. Army. He used the G.I. Bill to attend multiple colleges and universities and eventually received his master’s degree in education from UM in 1980, at age 68.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Benedetti twice for the Indy, most recently for a feature story that offered words of wisdom to new graduates. We met inside Benedetti's apartment on the University of Montana campus and spoke for nearly two hours. He told countless stories, often referring to newspaper articles he'd clipped out and saved in boxes scattered throughout his room. He couldn't have been nicer — and, although it was neither here nor there considering the congenial conversation, more tangential. We just talked and talked and talked.
Eventually, I came back around to asking the main question for the story — considering the full life he'd lived, what advice would he pass along to new graduates of the university. He shrugged his shoulders and said, "I can only say what I know." I said that'd be fine. Below is full answer:
I live a very good life. I can say nothing wrong. I cannot complain.
I always work very hard. I didn’t smoke. I drink a little, but not much. There was no extravagance. I didn’t go, say, overboard. That is why I still feel good. In November, I will be 98.
During the war, I was imported here and I cannot complain. That is how it is sometimes. That is life. It was not bad. I was not a prisoner. We could not go out, but it was a good life. We had the theater. We had the dances. We had many things. You can live a good life, even like this.
Experience means a lot. When I was 22, I had no experience. Now, I have experienced a lot, and your mind changes. That is a tough time, when things are changing. You need to find your job, that is a tough time. You need to choose your way, that is a tough time. I did many things and did not succeed. But you need to acquire the experience because that is life.
I go day-by-day. This is how it is. But I don’t complain. I live a full life, I try, I don’t complain. I have no regrets. Make sure you put that in there—I have no regrets. I cannot complain about anything.
The Historical Museum at Fort Missoula has created a memorial fund in Benedetti's name. Checks can be mailed to the Umberto Benedetti Memorial Fund, Historical Museum at Fort Missoula, Bldg. 322, Fort Missoula, Missoula, MT 59804.