If you visit the Cambridge American Cemetery in England, you'll find a new visitor center that includes a Sacrifice Gallery with panels honoring 17 individuals who lost their lives in World War II.
One of them is Technical Sgt. William R. Benn, one of 12 children from a Bethlehem Township farm family.
At the top is the word "SACRIFICE." Just below, "SUPPORTING THE ASSAULT" and Benn's photo.
The text says, "Technical Sergeant Benn arrived in Great Britain in July 1942. He first saw action in North Africa, where he single-handedly captured 28 German soldiers. After participating in the Sicily invasion, Benn returned to prepare for the Normandy landings. He came ashore with the first assault waves on D-Day and was seriously wounded while leading his platoon in an attack on an enemy gun emplacement overlooking Omaha Beach. Although safety evacuated, he later died of his injuries. Benn posthumously received the Distinguished Service Cross."
Nearly 9,000 members of the U.S. armed forces are buried or memorialized at the Cambridge cemetery, and the visitor center was dedicated this Memorial Day. Among those invited to the ceremony was Edith Clause of Bethlehem, William's little sister.
The letter announcing his death arrived at the Benn's farmhouse two months after William was killed. Edith got another jolt not long afterward when she received a card with a new picture of her brother and a personal note for her, written sometime before the invasion and addressed to Edie.
"Chin up," it says at one corner of the photo. "Keep smiling" at the other, and underneath, "All the best always, brother 'Bill.'"
The note itself says, "Keep smiling and your chin up always and for Don [another brother, in the Navy] and I try to keep the rest at home the same, and it will be so much easier for all of us. Love, Bill."
Can you imagine the impact that had? "It was a sad summer," she told me.
Edith, 88, said Bill was the oldest boy and No. 3 among the 12 kids. "I'm No. 6."
She said Bill quit school to begin working on the farm after a year at Wolf Junior High School. "We were really poor, but we always had enough to eat," she said. "We had a very good childhood."
His commitment to his family was what she remembers most about her brother.
She said five sisters and one brother still are alive. She said she's particularly close to younger sister Shirley Bajan of Nazareth.
William received the Silver Star and Purple Heart in addition to the Distinguished Service Cross. The citation accompanying his posthumous Distinguished Service Cross recognizes his "extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an armed enemy while serving with Company A, 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division, in action against enemy forces on 6 June 1944, in France. Technical Sergeant Benn landed on the coast of France with the initial assault waves under heavy enemy small arms, mortar and rocket fire. His platoon leader was seriously wounded as soon as they reached the beach and he immediately assumed command. He led his platoon under heavy enemy fire through an uncharted minefield and up the steep slope toward the enemy positions. The intense enemy fire caused several casualties and threatened to stop the advance. Technical Sergeant Benn, completely disregarding his own safety, advanced alone toward the enemy positions, silencing their guns. Though seriously wounded in the course of this action, Technical Sergeant Benn persisted in his efforts until he had carried out his self-appointed mission. Technical Sergeant Benn's aggressive leadership, personal bravery and zealous devotion to duty exemplify the highest traditions of the military forces of the United States and reflect great credit upon himself, the 1st Infantry Division, and the United States Army."
He is buried at the Cambridge cemetery in Plot B, Row 3, Grave 22.
As the American Battle Monuments Commission sent Edith new information in connection with the dedication ceremony, she began to get the idea that more people should know about her brother's heroism. Then she saw 70th anniversary interviews with D-Day veterans by The Morning Call's David Venditta this year, and it convinced her, "I have to do something. I think he deserves an article, too."
So she contacted the paper, and I visited her last week. I was struck by how emotional she still is about it, 70 years later. On her doctor's advice, she turned down that 2013 invitation to fly to England and attend this year's ceremony, and she finds herself bitterly regretting the decision.
With tears in her eyes, she said, "I've wished a million times I would have gone against the doctor's orders and gone over there."
I can understand her disappointment. But if not for her, William Benn never would have gotten the recognition he deserved back home.
She asked me to do him justice, which of course is impossible. It's hard for me to even imagine what he went through that day.
What I can do is say, "Thank you." For all of us.
Bill White's commentary appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun