We could not have asked any more of our D-Day heroes.They were truly part of our ‘Greatest Generation’.And today, we remember them with pride and with gratitude.
Cambridge American Cemetery
May 27, 2019
AMB JOHNSON: It is my privilege to speak here today in honor of the men and women who have given their lives to serve America and to serve the cause of freedom and justice which our country has always stood for.
In this special anniversary year, we remember, in particular, our D-Day heroes.
Over a million Americans came to this country to prepare for the fight to liberate Europe.
Many never made it home.
Many thousands are buried right here in Cambridge.
And behind every gravestone and name in this cemetery, there is the story of a husband, a father, a son, or a brother.
There is a story of courage.
And there is a story of great sacrifice.
Today it is my privilege to tell one of those stories:
A recipient of the Distinguished Service Cross, William Benn Junior – or Bill to his family.
Bill was born in 1922.
He was the eldest son in a family of 12 children.
His father was born in Liverpool and emigrated to America 13 years before Bill’s birth.
The family settled in Pennsylvania, where they found enough to get by.
His sister Edith said:”we were really poor, but we always had enough to eat”
Bill quit high school after a year to support his family by working as a farm hand.
But when war broke out in Europe, and the country of his father’s birth fought back, Bill wanted to do his part.
At the age of just 18, he enlisted in the U.S. Army.
He joined the famous 1st Infantry Division – known as the Big Red One – the oldest division in the Army.
He saw some of the toughest fighting.
In 1942, he took part in Operation Torch in North Africa.
During this campaign, he managed to destroy an enemy truck and capture 28 German soldiers single handedly.
This earnt him the Silver Star for valor.
He then went on to take part in the invasion of Sicily, where again he saw fierce, tough fighting.
Then Bill came to Britain and prepared to take part in the D-Day landings.
On June 6th, 1944, Bill landed on Omaha beach with the first assault wave.
His unit came under heavy fire.
They suffered thirty percent casualties in just the first hour.
His platoon leader was seriously wounded as soon as they reached the beach and Bill immediately assumed command.
He led his platoon through an unchartered mine field and up the steep slope towards the enemy positions.
The enemy fire was so intense, the advance was almost halted.
Bill himself had been seriously wounded.
But he set aside his own safety.
He advanced alone towards the enemy positions.
He persisted until he had carried out his mission and the enemy guns fell silent.
He was evacuated off the beach back to England.
But he died of his wounds on the way back.
He was just 22 years old.
The letter announcing his death arrived at the family’s farmhouse two months later.
Not long after, his little sister Edith received another piece of mail.
It was a photo Bill had sent her before the invasion.
“Chin up,” Bill had written in one corner of the photo.
“Keep smiling” he’d written in the other.
And underneath, “All the best always, brother ‘Bill.'”
“it was a sad summer,” his sister Edith said.
Seventy-five years later, we remember Bill’s story.
We remember his sacrifice and the sacrifice so many of our troops and their families made.
We could not have asked any more of our D-Day heroes.
They were truly part of our ‘Greatest Generation’.
And today, we remember them with pride and with gratitude.