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This Day in History: George Benjamin's bravery at Leyte

On this day in 1919, a hero is born. George Benjamin, Jr. surely never expected to be a war hero. He’d been a regular kid, then a high school athlete. As so many in that generation did, though, he stepped up when his country needed him during World War II.

Private Benjamin’s heroism came on December 21, 1944, during the Battle of Leyte. On that day, he was serving as a radio operator at the rear of his company.

“Our company was advancing,” Sergeant Paul E. Szypka later described, “when Private Benjamin’s platoon, moving behind a light tank, was stopped by a hail of fire from the Jap positions to our front.”

Benjamin was then in a “comparatively secure position” at the rear of the company, as his Medal citation describes. He was only lightly armed and still carried his radio. He could have stayed in relative safety at the rear. Arguably, he should have stayed there, given that he carried only one pistol.

But he could see that the American advance was in trouble. He decided to act.

“He plunged uphill toward the enemy,” Szypka marveled, “and killed one man in a foxhole. The men took up the cry and plunged forward in his wake. He single-handedly silenced an enemy machinegun by killing its two-man crew with his pistol. Continuing to lead the advance and shouting to the men to follow, he killed two more Japanese in their foxholes.”

His Medal citation notes that Benjamin was “waving and shouting to the men of the platoon to follow” as he spearheaded an assault across “bullet-whipped terrain.” Benjamin’s move was so unexpected and daring that he spurred the men around him into action.

Unfortunately, Benjamin wouldn’t survive his valiant charge. He was mortally wounded and taken to an aid station.

“Refusing medical attention,” his local newspaper later reported, “he gasped out a description of Jap fire positions which resulted in a successful battalion attack.” He’d held on long enough to deliver crucial information about the enemy’s defenses.

Benjamin left behind his wife and two young sons. His widow would receive the Medal of Honor on his behalf the following summer.

Indeed, the young private’s family, friends, and community remain understandably proud of his sacrifice. Each summer, Woodbury, N.J., hosts a Memorial 5K in memory of the former track star and Medal recipient. A few years ago, his son Christopher proudly donated his father’s Medal to the city of Woodbury. Christopher had been only 6 months old when his father was killed in action.

Another member of the Greatest Generation, giving all that he had to give.

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