The DPAA has updated their earlier announcement that Private Edwin Francis Benton, of West Newton, Massachusetts has been accounted for. Read their press release here.
Born in Boston on 31 October 1921, Edwin grew up in West Newton. The house at 80 Eliot Street was also home to his parents, Edwin and Mary, and two older sisters, Mary Barbara and Marguerite. His father, a Harvard man, ran the English department at The Boston Latin School; accordingly, young Edwin was no slouch in academics, attending both St. John’s Prep in Danvers and the Newton High School, where he was a prominent figure on the track team. However, instead of college, Edwin Benson decided on a military career. He joined the Marine Corps on 2 July 1940, at the age of eighteen, and was shipped off to Parris Island.
Benson was quickly sent off to a much more exotic climate – the city of Balboa in Panama, entrance to the famous Canal and the site of a large Navy outpost. He was assigned to guard duty at the ammunition depot. The. novelty of the post quickly wore off, and bored Marines got up to mischief with pranks like “posting an unauthorized notice on the Company bulletin board” and “creating a disturbance in the movie hall.” Punishments were strict; for the crime of “creating a disturbance,” Benson once spent five days in the brig on bread and water. Shortly after the war broke out, he was busted for possession of “intoxicating liquor” and lost his hard-won PFC stripe.
As the war expanded and it became clear that Panama would be a backwater, many of the garrison began angling for ways to get into combat. Benson was one who volunteered to transfer, but the process of getting to the front was far more complicated than it seemed. First he was sent back to Portsmouth, Virginia, then to New River, North Carolina to train with Company M of the newly-formed 23rd Marines. Benson’s thinning patience was evident in a string of minor disciplinary infractions, which never resulted in serious punishment but always kept him from regaining his PFC rating. At long last, he was transferred to the 13th Replacement Battalion, sailed across the Pacific, and joined Company L, Third Battalion, 2nd Marines on 10 July 1943.
Private Benson would lose his life to enemy bullets on 20 November 1943. His battalion led the assault on Tarawa’s Red Beach One – an event so traumatic and heroic that it led to their nickname “The Betio Bastards.” His body was found and identified after the cataclysmic conflict, and he was reported as buried in Row B, Grave #27 of the East Division Cemetery. Due to confusion over his status – some official reports noted that Edwin was “missing” rather than dead – the Benson family would not receive the sad news until February of 1944. Both Barbara and Marguerite would join the Navy and serve as WAVES for the rest of the war.
Edwin Benson’s remains were exhumed by the 604th Quartermaster Graves Registration Company in March of 1946, but could not be identified by their technicians. He was designated as “X-155” and reinterred temporarily in the Lone Palm Cemetery, until the bodies of Betio’s dead could be sent back to Hawaii for final identification and disposition. There, too, X-155 defied identification, and was buried in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, Plot E Grave 232, as an unknown.
Private Benson’s remains were exhumed for a final time on 30 January 2017; he was officially accounted for on 24 June 2019.
Welcome home, Private Benson. Semper Fi.
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