This Day in History: Regina Benson, WWII nurse
On this day in 2020, former Army nurse Regina Benson is honored with the Angel of Honor Award at the 14th annual Angels of the Battlefield Awards. Today, Benson is 101 years old and the oldest female World War II veteran living in Virginia.
In many ways, Benson’s award reflects the hard work of so many in the Greatest Generation. Countless nurses, medics, corpsmen, pararescuemen, and doctors served our country in World War II. They did it knowing that their service would remain mostly anonymous. Few would ever know the details of the efforts they made.
These medical personnel served anyway. They did it for love of country—and perhaps because they understood that freedom must be fought for and defended at every step.
“I accept this award not for myself but on behalf of all the medical personnel who served in World War II,” Benson said last year. “None of us deserved medals. We just did what millions of Americans did. We worked together, fought together and served together for our nation and for our freedom. It was a unique time of American unity and spirit that sadly may never be equaled again.”
Benson served in the Army Nurse Corps from September 1944 until April 1946, including in the Battle of Okinawa. Needless to say, she had her share of harrowing experiences.
On one occasion, she was on a ship going across the Pacific in a bad storm. “So, the captain decided we would go down with the ship,” she later told a journalist, “and of course, everybody got on their knees and prayed and promised God many things. Then all of a sudden, the ship calmed down, and we went through the eye of the storm and everybody went back to what they were doing.”
Once across the Pacific, Benson worked 12-hour shifts in Army hospitals, but she thought the most important part of her job was to give comfort to those who were dying. “I made sure my patients never died alone,” she told the audience at last year’s award ceremony, “so I could tell their families, ‘I was holding their hand when they passed.’”
All in all, Benson was happy when the war was over so she could return to the States. She’d met her future husband, Army 1st Lt. William Benson, in Hawaii and would eventually settle into life as a wife, mother, and a civilian nurse.
The story is a simple one in many ways, but it reflects one great truth upon which this nation was founded: Every person, every effort, always makes a difference—especially when you are fighting for liberty.
“The United States is the greatest country in the world because of its freedoms,” Benson concluded. She hopes people will remember to “love their country, and remember the price [service members] paid for your freedom. Remain true to your country.”
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David Vergun, Chairman honors WWII Army nurse, others (Defense.gov; Oct. 29, 2020)
John Grady, Joint Chiefs Chair Milley Marks 14th Annual ‘Angels of the Battlefield’ Awards (USNI News; Oct. 29, 2020)
Military medical heroes honored for service above and beyond (Military Health System website; Nov. 4, 2020)
Terri Moon Cronk, Former Army nurse, 100, recalls World War II experiences (Defense.gov; Aug. 24, 2020)