“[Corpsman] Benfold leaped out of the crater and hurled himself against the onrushing hostile soldiers, pushing the grenades against their chests and killing both the attackers.”
For many years I’ve tried to honor Memorial Day and our fallen heroes in some small way, in words and deed. I’ve lost track of how many articles I’ve written featuring various perspectives of the day.
But, no matter how many times I write about this one day, I never feel as though I’ve said anything worth saying compared to the enormity of what our fallen heroes have done. Perhaps their deeds are too grand and too many for the words of the living.
And always I ask myself and my fellow citizens, are we worthy of their sacrifice?
From the Revolutionary War and the Civil War on, I’ve struggled to capture and honor the terrible price of liberty from its battlefields.
I’ve attempted to take us to the wars in Europe and the Pacific, with stories of the incredible price of freedom for the last century, where, now, a large number of citizens have no connection through their family to that terrible war, or the 400,000 American lives it demanded.
I have mourned loved ones lost in the war that we refused to win in Vietnam with so many of you. I have written about my high school friends, Greg Conant and Jimmy Plumlee, one killed at Hau Nghia and the other at Phuoc Long, so very far from the high desert of West Texas. And, of my father, lost forever even to the Vietnam Wall.
I’ve written too, of the Endless War. For two long decades, 7,000 American heroes have died, serving, as Mr. Lincoln said, to “the last full measure” in Afghanistan and Iraq, for reasons now all too familiar. I’ve often written about my visits to recovering military personnel at Walter Reed Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. It is incredible beyond words. Some of the most horrible wounds imaginable inflicted on men and women. And yet, when you interview them – and their families – there is no self-pity. You only hear their stories of the heroes that didn’t come home. Extraordinary men and women who see their sacrifice as nothing compared to those we honor this week.
The code of duty, honor, and sacrifice – captured so eloquently by General of the Army Douglas MacArthur – are the only words that accurately characterize fallen America’s heroes. They all share this code in some unique way.
Surely when Edward Clyde Benfold joined the U.S. Navy in 1949, becoming a Medal of Honor recipient, the nation’s highest military decoration, never crossed his mind.
Born in Staten Island in 1931 and raised in New Jersey, he was only eleven years old when his father, a Merchant Marine officer during WWII, was killed when a German submarine torpedoed his ship. After graduating from the Naval Hospital Corps School, Corpsman Benfold served at the Naval Hospital in Newport, Rhode Island, and in 1951 was transferred to the Field Medical Service School at Camp Lejeune, N.C. Completing his training, the newly married Corpsman Benfold reported to Camp Pendleton, CA., as a Field Medical Service Technician.
On July 21, 1952, he joined the 1st Marine Division in Korea, assigned to E Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment as Hospital Corpsman Third Class (HC3c) Edward C. Benfold. He would never come home.
If we know too little of his years before his six months in Korea, then his death tells us all we need to know about the character of this American hero. On a hilltop in Western Korea, HC3c Benfold was killed while serving, protecting, and defending others on the opening day of a battle that would last ten days, known as the Battle of Bunker Hill.
The official posthumous citation from the President of the United States in the name of the Congress on July 16, 1953, sends a chill down one’s spine. Where do such men come from?
HOSPITAL CORPSMAN THIRD CLASS EDWARD C. BENFOLD
UNITED STATES NAVY
For gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as a Hospital Corpsman, attached to a company in the First Marine Division during operations against enemy aggressor forces in Korea on September 5, 1952. When his company was subjected to heavy artillery and mortar barrages, followed by a determined assault during the hours of darkness by an enemy force estimated at Battalion, HC3c. BENFOLD resolutely moved from position to position in the face of intense hostile fire, treating the wounded and lending words of encouragement. Leaving the protection of his sheltered position to treat the wounded when the platoon area in which he was working was attacked from both the front and the rear, he moved forward to an exposed ridge line where he observed two Marines in a large crater. As he approached the two men to determine their condition, an enemy soldier threw two grenades into the crater while two other enemy charged the position. Picking up a grenade in each hand, HC3c. BENFOLD leaped out of the crater and hurled himself against the onrushing hostile soldiers, pushing the grenades against their chests and killing both the attackers. Mortally wounded while carrying out this heroic act, HC3c. BENFOLD, by his great personal valor and resolute spirit of self-sacrifice in the face of almost certain death, was directly responsible for saving the lives of his two comrades. His exceptional courage reflects the highest credit upon himself and enhances the finest traditions of the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for others.
HC3c Edward Benfold was buried with full military honors leaving behind a widow and young son. He had been trained to save the wounded, and he did. He laid down his own life to save his brothers on some forgotten hilltop in a war few even know occurred in a faraway land. But what he and men like him did can never die, or the nation’s heart will perish.
There were only 146 Medal of Honor awards in the Korean War, of which 103 were posthumous.