Monthly Archives: May 2015

Private Archibald G. Benners

For Memorial Day, I’d like to remember a DVOC member (mentioned in passing in The Fascination of Nature) killed in World War I in the fighting at Belleau Wood, France in early summer 1918 . In 1913, when he was 15, Archibald Wright Benners joined the DVOC with his father, lawyer George B. Benners, with whom Archie had collected birds and eggs. (Stone later mentioned George’s pet ravens, Never and More, in Bird Studies at Old Cape May.)

Stone wrote a nice Cassinia tribute to Archie in 1918 that was presumably based on information given to him by George. I suspect the Cassinia article’s factual accuracy in its depiction of Archie’s military career, however, in light of a WWI memoir I stumbled across on the Internet (the magic of Google never ceases to amaze). Don Paradis, a gunnery sergeant, met Archie Benners on the transport ship to Europe, and described him as a spoiled rich kid and an alcoholic who had drank and flunked his way out of a military institute and two officers’ training schools. Some of Paradis’s details are incorrect, but (without going into a dissertation) some other things I found seem to corroborate his basic narrative of Benners.

So, was Archibald Benners the pampered lush portrayed by Paradis, or the upstanding, heroic soldier depicted by his father in Cassinia, or something in between? I don’t really care. What I know for sure is that he was mortally wounded at Belleau Wood and died a month later in a hospital near Paris. He paid the ultimate price serving the U.S.A., and for that we are all grateful – to him and to all the other veterans we remember today. Benners is buried in the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery at Belleau; there is also a cenotaph in the family’s plot at Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia, the same cemetery where Stone is buried:

Cenotaph at Laurel Hill-2

This New York Tribune photo of Benners puts a handsome young face on one more casualty in the horrifically long list of them from WWI:

28941442_128865950887

The ANSP Archives houses a note that the Benners family sent to Stone after their son’s death. IMG_7054ed2

Thanks to Russ Dodge for photos and info on his fine “Find A Grave” web page

Cassinia death notice on second page here

 

Mentors

I was blessed by the fates to have grown up around the corner from Charlie Wonderly: Roxborough mailman, Boy Scout leader for 70 years, and an extraordinarily knowledgeable and engaging amateur natural historian. Charlie joined the DVOC in 1947, so never knew Stone, but he had a lot of great old stories about the old-time DVOC “characters” from that era, some of which appear in Witmer Stone: The Fascination of Nature. Charlie and his wife Betty took me on my first serious Cape May bird trip – the 1977 New Jersey Audubon Society Cape May weekend. We even got our pic in the Press of Atlantic City: CAW - Ed

For an excellent memorial of Charlie by Jane Henderson, click here.

My greatest regret – and it’s an unspeakably deep one – with the publication of the book is that I didn’t get it done in time for everybody. Just in the past year or two, we lost people who knew Stone when they were very young and who would have enjoyed the book. One of them was Alan Brady, and another was Dale Twining, who was the last person alive to have a set of Bird Studies at Old Cape May inscribed to him by Stone:

IMG_1248edReduced

The dates are curious. Dale, 17 at the time, received the book from DVOC member Bill Serrill, who must have been passing them out at the 12/16/37 meeting when the volumes, hot off the press, were first distributed, following a talk by Stone about the writing of the book. But Stone didn’t sign until 3/21/38. That was a Monday night, and I’m guessing it was at a Ludwick lecture, although Stone wasn’t the scheduled speaker that night.

Dale was a World War II U.S. Marine who served in the Pacific, and was one of the long-suffering, gentle souls who used to put up with pesky 10-year old me when Dale’s good friend Charlie Wonderly would take me along on their bird outings. I was able to give Dale a draft of the DVOC chapter in Fascination a few months before he passed away in August 2014, in his 78th year of DVOC membership (a record at the time; since equaled by Herb Cutler). Here’s a photo from an April 2011 visit to Dale’s house. They don’t make them like Dale anymore, and I just wish I could have gotten the book done in time for him to read all of it:

IMG_1252SC

It’s a lucky kid who gets to have Charlie and Dale for birding mentors, and in addition to being patient, kindly, old-school gents and storehouses of knowledge, they were a living link to the Stone Age.