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A World War II soldier who was buried in the wrong grave and considered missing for decades, finally has been identified and will be laid to rest after his son tracked him down following years of frustration. 

U.S. Army Private First Class Edward ‘Pete’ Hewitt Benson Jr., of Roanoke, Virginia, was identified 77 years after his death, the Pentagon announced on March 10, after his son James ‘Jim’ Benson, 79, of Little River, South Carolina, began a series of inquiries in 2003 with the Department of Defense about the possibility of identifying his father. 

‘I started tracing him,’ James Benson, a retired Marine, told the Washington Post. ‘It was off and on for years.’ 

Benson was only two when his father died in March 1945 during World War II and said he has no recollection of him, but he has pictures with his dad, who came home at least once to visit the family during the war. 

‘I never knew him,’ he told the Post. ‘I wanted to know more about him: how he got killed, why can’t we get him home. He was an unknown.’ 

Pete Benson’s body originally was buried at St. Mary’s Cemetery in Glens Falls, New York, in July 1948, by the family of Sergeant Leonard J. Moynihan, who thought the remains belonged to him. Moynihan and Benson were killed in the same attack during a Japanese air raid on the island of Biak in the South Pacific, now a part of Indonesia, in 1945.

It took the Defense Department three years to discover the mistake, removing Benson’s body – then unidentified – from the grave and burying Moynihan there in 1951. Benson’s body was taken to Fort William McKinley Cemetery – now known as Manila American Cemetery and Memorial – in the Philippines, where he was laid to rest for 71 years unidentified. 

He was dubbed as X-188 Finschhafen #3, or X-188 for short, and was declared ‘non-recoverable’ – or missing – by the American Graves Registration Service. 

Edward 'Pete' Hewitt Benson Jr., 22, of Roanoke, Virginia, (pictured) was officially identified on March 10 after 77 years of being considered missing. His remains were mistakenly identified as those of Sergeant Leonard J. Moynihan, who was stationed at the same airstrip

Edward 'Pete' Hewitt Benson Jr., 22, of Roanoke, Virginia, (pictured) was officially identified on March 10 after 77 years of being considered missing. His remains were mistakenly identified as those of Sergeant Leonard J. Moynihan, who was stationed at the same airstrip

Edward ‘Pete’ Hewitt Benson Jr., 22, of Roanoke, Virginia, (pictured) was officially identified on March 10 after 77 years of being considered missing. His remains were mistakenly identified as those of Sergeant Leonard J. Moynihan, who was stationed at the same airstrip 

He was dubbed as X-188 Finschhafen #3, or X-188 for short, and was declared 'non-recoverable' by the American Graves Registration Service after he was exhumed from Moynihan's grave in upstate New York (pictured: Pete Benson with his wife, Joan)

He was dubbed as X-188 Finschhafen #3, or X-188 for short, and was declared 'non-recoverable' by the American Graves Registration Service after he was exhumed from Moynihan's grave in upstate New York (pictured: Pete Benson with his wife, Joan)

He was dubbed as X-188 Finschhafen #3, or X-188 for short, and was declared ‘non-recoverable’ by the American Graves Registration Service after he was exhumed from Moynihan’s grave in upstate New York (pictured: Pete Benson with his wife, Joan)

Both Benson and Moynihan were stationed at the airstrip in Biak (pictured) during WWII and both of them died when the Japanese bombed the island in March 1945. Thirty-eight other soldiers died in the attack and Benson's was last body to be identified

Both Benson and Moynihan were stationed at the airstrip in Biak (pictured) during WWII and both of them died when the Japanese bombed the island in March 1945. Thirty-eight other soldiers died in the attack and Benson's was last body to be identified

Both Benson and Moynihan were stationed at the airstrip in Biak (pictured) during WWII and both of them died when the Japanese bombed the island in March 1945. Thirty-eight other soldiers died in the attack and Benson’s was last body to be identified 

Benson and Moynihan were both stationed near Sorido Airstrip on Biak, which was seized from the Japanese in 1944, and became part of the 1562nd Army Air Force Base Unit. It is unclear if they knew each other.

The pair, as well as 38 other soldiers, were killed in 1945 when the Japanese raided the airstrip at night. Three out of the 40 soldiers who died, including Benson, ended up unidentified. The other two were later identified, but the third – Benson – remained unknown. 

The bombing destroyed men’s tents, the mess hall, warehouses, planes and the air traffic control center. Originally, all 40 men who died were buried on the island until after the war, then they were exhumed and reburied in a large cemetery in New Guinea. 

Questions arose about Moynihan’s identity in 1951 and in September, the mistake – that Benson, and not Moynihan, was in Moynihan’s grave in Glens Falls – was discovered. Moynihan’s his body was found still in the New Guinea cemetery and he was identified through dental records, the Washington Post reported. He was reburied in November. Benson’s remains were removed but remained unidentified.

James Benson, who had been researching his father’s death since 2003, continuously asked the Department of Defense to look into the possibility that the remains mistakenly buried in Moynihan’s grave could be those of his father. 

He argued that his father was the only soldier not identified after the raid and whose body had never officially been located. The set of remains that had been in Moynihan’s grave were the only ones from the raid still unidentified. 

Pete Benson's son James (pictured) fought for years to have the potential connection between X-188 and his father being looked into. He started in 2003 and couldn't get anywhere until 2015, when Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) was formed and took family DNA and exhumed the body

Pete Benson's son James (pictured) fought for years to have the potential connection between X-188 and his father being looked into. He started in 2003 and couldn't get anywhere until 2015, when Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) was formed and took family DNA and exhumed the body

Pete Benson’s son James (pictured) fought for years to have the potential connection between X-188 and his father being looked into. He started in 2003 and couldn’t get anywhere until 2015, when Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) was formed and took family DNA and exhumed the body 

The Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) was reluctant to do another exhumation, but Benson was persistent. He later submitted detailed research performed by retired Air Force Colonel Jack O. Forgy about the ‘complexities’ of the case, but it still stalled. 

When the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) was formed in 2015, Benson reached out in hopes of moving the case further. 

In January 2020, Pete Benson – then known as X-188 – was moved to the DPAA Laboratory at the Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii and the family sent DNA samples for analysis. Through dental, anthropological and DNA analysis, Benson was properly identified and officially accounted for. 

James Benson told the Washington Post that it was ‘such [a] shock after all these years.’ when he received the call from an Army official, who told him: ‘Jim, I got great news. They’ve identified your father.’ 

‘That caused a big gulp,’ he said. ‘It’s hard to explain.’  

Pete Benson attended Jefferson High School and worked for the Norfolk & Western Railway before entering the Army with friends in October 1942, the Roanoke Times reported. He was married to Joan Benson. He spent five months overseas and then was killed in the attack at age 22. 

Pete was originally buried in the St. Mary's Cemetery in Glens Falls, New York (pictured), before being moved to the Philippines military cemetery. In 1951, his body was exhumed and the proper Moynihan was buried in his rightful spot in the Glens Falls cemetery

Pete was originally buried in the St. Mary's Cemetery in Glens Falls, New York (pictured), before being moved to the Philippines military cemetery. In 1951, his body was exhumed and the proper Moynihan was buried in his rightful spot in the Glens Falls cemetery

Pete was originally buried in the St. Mary’s Cemetery in Glens Falls, New York (pictured), before being moved to the Philippines military cemetery. In 1951, his body was exhumed and the proper Moynihan was buried in his rightful spot in the Glens Falls cemetery 

‘It’s closure. It’s a remarkable piece of history,’ James Benson told the Roanoke Times. 

Benson, a retired Marine colonel, served in Vietnam and spent 26 years in the military. He visited the cemetery in the Philippines where his father was potentially buried in the mid-1970s to see the Tablets of the Missing, where his dad’s name was recorded. Benson’s name will now have a rosette next to it to show that he has been recovered and identified. 

Pete Benson will be reburied at Roanoke’s Evergreen cemetery on May 14 near his parents and siblings, the Washington Post reported. 

Source: DailyMail

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