Benedict was born in Lansing, Kan., in 1918. His dad operated a lumber yard for 70 years and his mother was a housewife. Benedict had one sister. He went to work unloading coal and sand off of coal cars for 10 cents a ton, but decided to take another path in life. He went to Kansas City and enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. He was sent to San Diego for boot camp and then was sent to Shanghai, China, which was considered a good duty place. Others wanted to go there. Their platoon was lucky to have been assigned there.
The regiment was pulled out of China a week before Pearl Harbor was bombed, and they commandeered two civilian ships and headed for the Philippine Islands. When they arrived in the Philippines, they learned that Pearl Harbor had been bombed. They had no idea how it would affect them or the United States. They thought it would be done and over with within a week.
General MacArthur, who the 4th Marine Regiment was assigned to, gave orders to go to the island of Corregidor. The armaments in the Philippines were WWI material, barely useful. When the Japanese flew over Corregidor, they would fire at them, but the fuses on their equipment was short and the equipment slow. The artillery wouldn't travel high enough. General MacArthur transferred power over to General Wainright. The Japanese landed on the north end of Bataan and advanced. The Marines had three battle lines, but the Japanese broke through them and Benedict and many others were taken prisoner.
Their job as prisoners was to make rice fields out of any area they could find, no one was healthy. They were moved to Bilibed prison camp in Manila. Many of the prisoners were sick. The Japanese tried to keep the prisoners healthy enough to work. Benedict was having trouble with his eyes; his eyesight was damaged due to lack of proper nutrition. They were then moved on to another camp. There was a Japanese commander of the camp and a U.S. officer that was the liaison between the prisoners and the camp commander. The U.S. military officers took care of the POWs and they were the best Benedict says. Sometimes they had to give orders against their own troops, but they did it to keep them safe.
The Japanese were sending some prisoners to Japan to work in their factories, they didn’t have a choice. They were marched to a dock and loaded onto a ship. There were about 400 POWs in the hull of the ship. The conditions were very bad. The ship sat in Manila Bay for about a week, it was so very hot in the hull of that ship. If you weren't dead, you wanted to be. The prisoners were told they were waiting for a Japanese gun boat to escort them. While they waited, American planes were shooting at them while they were on this Japanese ship.
The ship landed in Moji, Japan, and then they were put on a train that would go up the coast of Japan. Anywhere along the route they needed POWs to work, they would stop and unload how many they needed for slave labor. Benedict was unloaded at Osaka, Japan. The POWs Benedict was with worked at the Osaka shipyard. The Geneva Convention states that you cannot work POWs on military equipment for the enemy, but the Japanese got away with it. They worked on oil tankers. They didn’t have guns on them so they thought that was justifiable.
Benedict was on a five man rivet crew, using a 30 pound rivet hammer that was made in the USA. He had to look at those words every day while he was working for the enemy. You did the best you could every day or you would pay the price for it. It was rough work. If you drove 500 rivets per day, the head Japanese guy would make extra money. The POWs’ reward each day, if they did well, was extra burnt rice. They always had huge cauldrons of rice. POWs made the rice also.
The Americans bombed the camp they were in, so once again they were moved to a town in the mountains where there was a copper mine that they were forced to work in. Benedict states that you had to have the background of religion to stay alive during this ordeal. Talking to each other about home helped. Some guys lost their minds and didn’t care whether they lived or died. Some were never well again. The lack of proper vitamins in the food they ate affected some of the POW’s and they couldn’t get out of their sacks they slept in, they slept on straw mats. How you were treated physically was up to you, if you thought you were a tough guy then you had a hard time.
One day the Japanese camp commander got up to give a talk and he said in English: “We will be friends.” That is how they found out that the war was over. The POWs realized then they would be freed. The ranking officer of the POWs, who was a captain, told his men that they were leaving the camp to go to the nearest town to catch a train and find the rest of their troops. The Japanese guards were leaving the camp also.
They got on a Japanese train that took them to the harbor where the battleships were docked; they put them on a ship and gave them ice cream and candy. The doctor checked them out. Benedict still had a lot of trouble with his eyes. They flew him home.
Benedict had three years worth of paychecks in the bank upon his return, when he went to draw some money; his pay had been raised to $31 per month. This was about the time he realized he was a free man again!
Benedict tried to stay in the service, but they wouldn’t let him. He was back home and took the civil service exam at the Federal Penitentiary in Fort Leavenworth and got a job doing desk work. He didn’t like that much, so he took a job as a prison officer at the penitentiary and stayed there 25 years. Benedict was the Physical Training and Firearms officer, but he also dealt with the convicts and they were rugged, tough guys. He then went on to the State Penitentiary at Lansing for a year and eventually moved on to be a security officer at St. Luke’s Hospital for one and a half years.
Benedict states that his mother brought him back from being a POW through prayer. “She brought me home,” he said. Benedict carved the names of the camps and what he thought were the dates they arrived at each camp in his canteen and he still has that canteen.
Benedict proudly says he wouldn’t want to live or be anywhere else except in the United States of America.
Peggy Sowders, a city of Independence staff member, compiles stories from veterans from around the area at the Truman Memorial Building. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 816-325-7979 if you are interested in helping a veteran tell his or her story.