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A Utah Naval Officer Died a Hero's Death at Pearl Harbor
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UTAH aND THE COLD WAR

World War I and Utah
Utah's Capitols
Herbert S. Auerbach, Renaissance Man
Utah's "Ugly Duckling" Salt Flats
Publicizing Bryce Canyon
The Last Indian Uprising
Home Industry 20th Century Style
Some 80 Utah Nurses Served in World War I
World War I Heroine Maud Fitch Lived in Eureka, Utah
Mexican Families and the Sugar Industry in Garland
The Development of Zion National Park
The Twenties
Artist John Held, Jr. Created Cultural Icons, 1920's
Media Development in Weber County
Silent Films Intrigued & Occasionally Offended
Coal Production Amid the Wars
Sheep Fueled 1920's Economy
Military Installations
Boxcars and Section Houses
Jack Dempsey Loved Fighting, Mining, and Cowboying
Radio in Utah Began in May 1922 on Station KZN
The Cigarette Ban of the 19020's Caused an Uproar
Prohibition Failed to Stop the Liquor Flow in Utah
Lawyer Ran For President on the Farmer-Labor Ticket
George Sutherland Served on the U.S. Supreme Court
Alice Stratton Feared and Made Fun of "Kaiser Bill"
Klansmen at a Funeral and a Terrible Lynching
President Harding's 1923 Visit to Utah
Growing Crops For the Cannery
Dinosaur National Monument
The Fathers of Capitol Reef National Park
Ogden's the Bigelow-Preserves a Historic Area
Philo T. Farnsworth's Invention
The Beginnings of Commerical Aviation
The White Book Road Guide
The Great Depression
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"Even Grasshoppers Were Starving" During Drought
New Deal Agencies Built 233 Buildings in Utah
"Alphabet" Agencies in Utah County
The Civilian Conservation Corps Was a Boon to Utah
The Civilian Conservation Corps
Marriner S. Eccles Helped Design FDR's New Deal
Reed Smoot and the Smoot-Hawley Tariff, 1930
Reed Smoot & America's Natural Resources, 1903-33
Children in the 1930's Hoped to Become Nurses & Pilots
Arches National Monument
A Labor Inspector During the Great Depression
Clean Clothes Blowing in the Breeze
Utah's Rosies in the War
Garfield County Airport Has Unusual Hangar
Marie Ogden Led Spiritual Group in San Juan County
Uinta Basin Group Trekked to the 1933 World's Fair
Helen Hofmann Bertagnole-"Utah's Queen of Swing"
World War II in Utah
How Trains Helped Win a War
The War Effort at Home
Topaz Relocation Center
Topaz: Japanese American Interned in UT During WWII
Japanese Agricultural Colony at Keetley
Utahn Survives the Attack at Pearl Harbor
The USS Salt Lake City Made History
Utah Naval Officer Died a Hero's Death at Pearl Harbor
Rhymes Filled Children's Autograph Books
Utah's Rosies Upshot
Women Workers and Housing Issues
World War II Claimed the Lives of Four Utah Brothers

Jeffrey D. Nichols
History Blazer, March 1995

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, shocked the nation and propelled the United States into World War II. The surprise attack killed 2,396 American civilians and military personnel and severely crippled the U.S. Pacific Fleet. The main Japanese targets were the U.S. battleships, including the USS West Virginia with its Utah- born commanding officer, Captain Mervyn S. Bennion.

Mervyn Sharp Bennion was born in Vernon, Utah, on May 5, 1887. After attending high school in Salt Lake City, he received an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis in 1906, where he graduated near the top of his class. His first tour of duty was in the engineering section of the USS California. The young officer eventually specialized in ordnance and gunnery, and he commanded the 1-inch batteries aboard the battleship USS North Dakota during World War I. His first command was the destroyer USS Bernadou, followed by a tour as commander of Destroyer Division One. After a shore tour as a student and instructor at the Naval War College, Bennion assumed command of the West Virginia, on July 2, 1941.

The "Wee Vee," as she was affectionately called, was moored with other vessels at Battleship Row along the southeast side of Ford Island in Pearl Harbor on a quiet Sunday morning, December 7, 1941. Japanese torpedo bombers struck the battleships just before 8:00 A.M., and the West Virginia was hit hard almost immediately. At least six torpedoes struck the giant vessel's port side, along with two bombs. Captain Bennion, struggling to organize defenses from the bridge, was hit in the stomach by bomb splinters from the nearby Tennessee. Still, he continued to direct his ship's battle, eventually ordering his men to leave him and save themselves. Crew members nevertheless carried him from the bridge to a safer spot where his wounds soon proved fatal.

Bennion's heroism during the one-sided attack was recognized by awarding him posthumously the Congressional Medal of Honor, the nation's highest. In his presentation, President Franklin D. Roosevelt noted in part that "as commanding officer of the U.S.S. West Virginia, after being mortally wounded, he evidenced apparent concern only in fighting and saving his ship, and strongly protested against being carried from the bridge."

Captain Bennion received another traditional navy tribute on July 4, 1943, when the destroyer USS Bennion was christened by his widow Louise. The Bennion went on to fight in a number of important actions during the successful American offensive in the Pacific. In 1951 the Salt Lake City Navy Mother's Club dedicated a plaque in honor of World War II veterans in Salt Lake's Memory Grove. Bennion was also honored in 1968 by the University of Utah's Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps, which dedicated the midshipmen wardroom in the Naval Science Building to him.

See: Clippings file, "Memory Grove," USHS Library; NROTC Unit, University of Utah, Dedication Ceremony, April 16, 1968; Robert Anthony Sumbot, "The Utah Fleet: A History of Ships in the United States Navy that Bore Utah Place Names and Personality Names" (M.S. thesis, Utah State University, 1966).

 

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