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Honoring Paul Bensman

Military

Honoring Paul Bensman

WWII vet, killed, missing, to be honored Saturday

ALTON — It will be a day of many emotions for Paul Bensman’s family.

Family members from across the country will convene upon Alton’s Marquette Catholic High School gymnasium Saturday for a flag presentation honoring Bensman, whose plane went down on a Pacific island in September 1944. The BentProp Project, a team of volunteers dedicated to locating and assisting with identifying Americans missing in action from the war, will present the family with an American flag and personal effects of Bensman, an Alton native.

The two remaining sisters of Bensman, Eileen Budde of Godfrey and Dee Pace, who now lives in Texas, will be on hand along with a number of nieces, nephews and cousins for the ceremony. Budde said she’s nervous, among other feelings, in anticipation of the day.

“It’s just really overwhelming that so many people have responded and are working on this,” Budde said. “It’s just kind of a surprise that all this is happening.”

Discovering Paul

The event has been in the works since January, but everything started back in 2006.

Rather, it started on Sept. 15, 1944, when Bensman’s TBM-1C Avenger plane went down on the island of Peleliu, part of the island nation of Palau. Bensman and two fellow airmen died in the crash. The men were part of the invasion of Peleliu, an invasion that began the 73-day-long Battle of Peleliu during World War II.

The crash was one of countless airplane crashes during the war, and the wreckage sat untouched for over 60 years. Then, in 2006, a BentProp Project team discovered the plane’s remains on the small western Pacific island.

Among the remains were personal effects verifying that the site was that of Bensman and fellow crew members Francis Waters and Hyman Atun’s plane.

“It’s so unreal to think that after 70 years that they could find (the wreckage) and bring it back,” Pace said.

That was only the beginning.

Despite his plane having been found, Bensman’s family had no idea the BentProp Project existed. It was only after Susan Stricker, the daughter of Bensman’s former fiancee, saw the 60 Minutes piece on the project and alerted the family to it that they thought to get in touch with the organization, Budde said.

Learning of his plane’s discovery also led the family to find out more about Bensman. Family members began going through storage in hopes of finding some information they could share with others. A voice recording of Bensman asking about the family and singing “You Are My Sunshine” to his mother was found and salvaged, and will be played at the family’s get-together following Saturday’s ceremony.

Budde, who was the youngest of 10 children, said the presentation has provided her an opportunity to find out more about her brother.

“I’ve just learned a lot about him since all this has started,” Budde said. “We’ve got a family book, (but) you don’t take the time to read it until you need to.”

A community affair

The event, set for 1 p.m. at Marquette Catholic High School, has turned into a family reunion of sorts.

The community has rallied to make it a big deal as well. Alton VFW Post 1308 will present the colors, a 21-gun salute will be given and Taps will be played on the bugle as part of the ceremony. Along with an American flag, an identification tag recovered by the U.S. government will be delivered to Bensman’s family as well.

Alton Mayor Brant Walker or Mayor Pro Tem James Ryan will also be present to proclaim Saturday, May 16, 2015, as Paul Bensman Day in the city of Alton “in recognition of his military service and the sacrifice he made.”

“It’s a local boy who served his nation, gave the ultimate sacrifice,” Walker said. “A lot of times, especially as we approach Memorial Day, we have a tendency to take for granted what people gave so that we can enjoy our freedoms. I think Mr. Bensman is an example of someone that gave the ultimate sacrifice so that we can continue to enjoy the freedoms that we do in this country. So, I’m honored that the city is able to do a proclamation for Mr. Bensman.”

For the family, it will likely be a day of mixed emotions. Pace said it will be “sad but it’s going to be a really nice thing, too.”

After 70 years, Budde said the day will also offer a resolution.

“I think this is going to be kind of a closing for everybody.”

[Original post at The Telegraph: http://thetelegraph.com/news/news/153418732/Honoring-Paul-Bensman]

Nathan Grimm may be reached at 618-208-6451 or on Twitter @GrimmTelegraph.

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