One Pearl Harbor hero's legacy of courage, service and sacrifice continues to inspire his family and his home state of Utah.
Capt. Mervyn Sharp Bennion, a U.S. Naval Academy graduate from Vernon, Tooele County, was in command of the battleship USS West Virginia on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, as Japanese airplanes attacked the U.S. fleet in Hawaii.
The Utah native and member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was hit by shrapnel from a bomb that destroyed part of his command deck. Although mortally wounded with severe injuries to his abdomen, spine and legs, Bennion refused to leave the bridge, even for more than basic medical treatment, according to usswestvirginia.org.
He continued to direct those on the ship as they evacuated the injured, assessed damage, confronted the incoming Japanese planes, received reports about the attack and did his best to save those on his ship from the spreading fire before he died on board a few hours later, according to usswestvirginia.org.
For his extraordinary bravery, valor and devotion to duty, he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor — one of a handful of Utahns to receive America's highest military honor. In 1943, the Navy memorialized him by naming a destroyer the USS Bennion. His wife, Louise Bennion, was invited to christen the ship. Bennion was also portrayed in the 2001 film, "Pearl Harbor," by actor Peter Firth.
As Americans commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor Wednesday, the Central Utah Veterans Home in Payson is renaming its facility in Mervyn Bennion's honor, according to Gary Harter, executive director for the Utah Department of Veterans and Military Affairs.
"I think it's appropriate to have his name attached to a place that cares for veterans," Harter said.
Maynard Sorenson, a post commander of the American Legion in the St. George area, put forth the idea to name the home after Bennion. The 108-bed care facility, which opened in 2013, serves the area where Bennion was raised.
The program, scheduled to take place at 1551 N. Main in Payson on Wednesday, Dec. 7, at 2 p.m., will feature various musical selections and several speakers, including Mervyn "Mick" Bennion IV, Capt. Mervyn Bennion's great-grandson and a family representative; and Michael Mower, the Utah governor's deputy chief of staff and Bennion's grand-nephew.
"He was a man of incredible integrity and courage," said Mower, whose mother, Annetta Mower, grew up two doors down from her uncle, Capt. Mervyn Bennion. "This is a fitting tribute for him, especially coming as it does on the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor."
Members of Bennion's family continue to honor his memory and example of service. Nieces Sally Lloyd and Louise Davis, both now in their 80s, were young girls when he was alive but remember their uncle as "a wonderful man," they said.
"He was a nice, tall, good-looking man, kind and fun to be around," Lloyd said. "When they brought him home to be buried on the family plot, four or five men from his crew talked about how they loved him. I've always remembered how they talked about him."
Rebecca Bennion, a granddaughter, said her grandfather ate dinner with Ralph Woolley, his cousin and president of the Hawaii Mission, the night before the attack. They invited him to spend the night and attend church services with them the next day, but Bennion declined.
"He felt strongly that he should get back to his men and the USS West Virginia," Rebecca Bennion said. "We believe it was a blessing that he went back because he would have felt heartbroken if he had not been there with his men, even though it took his life."
Capt. Bennion's father-in-law was LDS Apostle J. Reuben Clark, who in 1941 was serving in the First Presidency. In author D. Michael Quinn's book, "J. Reuben Clark: The Church Years," the church leader described how he learned of his son-in-law's death.
"When news of the Japanese attack first interrupted all radio broadcasts in Salt Lake City about 1 p.m. on 7 December, President Clark felt a cold terror," the account reads. "When unconfirmed reports flashed across the radio that the West Virginia was sunk in the air raid, he immediately sent a telegram to his cousin Ralph Woolley, asking about the safety of the missionaries and Hawaiian Saints and about the status of the West Virginia. For three days, the Clarks lived in limbo of hope and despair until they received official word that Mervyn died on the bridge of his ship. President Clark 'showed deep emotion as he spoke of the death of his son-in-law,' for he loved Mervyn Bennion as a son. … He would always remember December 1941 with special poignancy."
In a 1991 LDS Church News article, widow Louise Bennion said she found some comfort in knowing she and her husband had been sealed in an LDS temple.
"That just carried me along," she said told the Church News. "Temple marriage is for eternity, and that just kept me up."
Their son, Mervyn Bennion Jr., was 16 years old when his father was killed. Coming home from East High School, he was greeted by a family member who broke the sad news. He later followed in his father's footsteps and served in the Navy, Rebecca Bennion said.
One account that illustrates her grandfather's devotion to the LDS Church came when he lived in Washington, D.C., and worked at the Pentagon. The Bennions were members of the Chevy Chase Branch, and in 1940, Bennion was called as a counselor in the branch presidency, according to the 1991 Church News.
Because he had the time, Mervyn Bennion accepted the responsibility to home teach more than 30 families and was faithful in that effort, Rebecca Bennion said.
Adm. A.C. Pickens, commander of the Atlantic Fleet, later wrote of Bennion in a tribute that is online at usswestvirginia.org:
"His was a truly great soul and when the time came for him to make the supreme sacrifice, he met his ordeal with that splendid courage, that disregard of self, and that kindliness and thought of others which has endeared him throughout his life to his family and his many friends. In his hour of death, as in his way of life, he set the highest standard."
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