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 the summer of 1918. In 1913, when he was 15, Archibald Wright Benners had joined the DVOC with his father, lawyer George B. Benners, with whom Archie 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 (on second page here). 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:
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:
Thanks to Russ Dodge for photos and info on his fine “Find A Grave” web page