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After 70 years, Ledyard veteran receives Purple Heart

By Jennifer McDermott

Publication: theday.com

Published July 05. 2013 2:00PM   Updated July 05. 2013 9:38PM
Sean D. Elliot/The Day
With the help of Frank Bennett's one-year old great grandson, Axel Trygg Bennett, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal, (D-Conn.), presents U.S. Navy WWII veteran Frank Bennett with a Purple Heart medal Friday, July 5, 2013, at his Ledyard home. Bennett was injured when his ship, the USS Little (DD-79) was sunk by Japanese forces off the Pacific island of Guadalcanal Sept. 5, 1942, but was not awarded the medal at that time. Sen. Blumenthal's staff, acting at the request of Bennett's family, researched Bennett's eligibility for the medal and filed the appropriate paperwork with the Navy.

Ledyard — Seventy years after he was injured in combat, Frank Bennett received his Purple Heart medal.

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., presented the award to Bennett at his home in Ledyard Friday.

"I feel very honored and surprised because this is something I didn't expect to get," said Bennett, 89, who joined the Navy in 1941. "But apparently they looked through my records and found out it was well deserved. The senator said I deserved it a long time ago. I'm very proud."

When he was 19, Bennett was stationed aboard the USS Little, which was attacked by Japanese forces at Guadalcanal in the South Pacific on Sept. 5, 1942.

Bennett was hit by shrapnel and burned when his clothing caught fire in the engine room. The Little sank. Of the 200-man crew, 62 were killed and 27 wounded.

After 10½ hours in the water, Bennett was rescued and taken to Guadalcanal. He said he was treated on board another ship bound for Pearl Harbor. Once he arrived there, he was sent to San Diego, then home to Philadelphia to recover. He said he was not treated in the hospital on the island, which is why he did not receive the Purple Heart then.

After a month of rest, Bennett returned to service aboard the USS Frankford, and he continued to serve in the Navy until he retired in 1962 as a chief electrician.

Recently, his family encouraged him to ask for the medal.

"My wife said, 'How come you never got it?' and my three sons and grandchildren said, 'You should have it,'" Bennett said. "That is when the letter writing started."

In addition to the Purple Heart, Blumenthal presented Bennett with the World War II Victory Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign with two bronze star devices, United Nations Medal, Combat Action Ribbon, Republic of Korea War Service Medal, Discharge Button and Honorable Service Lapel Pin.

"Frank Bennett's lifetime of heroic service represents the best of our nation's Greatest Generation," Blumenthal said in a statement. "As we celebrate July 4th and the birth of our country, it is important that we honor and remember the service of men and women like Frank Bennett who risked their lives to ensure that our country continues to live up to the freedom and ideals first envisioned by our forefathers centuries ago."

Philip G. Hopkins, a World War II veteran from Preston, received his service medals from U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, on Wednesday.

The medals replaced those he'd earned while serving with the Army's 976th Field Artillery Battalion during the Rhineland and Central Europe campaigns. He received the Good Conduct Medal, American Campaign Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with two bronze service stars, World War II Victory Medal, Army of Occupation Medal Germany clasp, Honorable Service Lapel Button World War II and the Expert Badge with Carbine Bar.

Hopkins is at the Greentree Manor Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, and Courtney's office was contacted to help expedite the process for obtaining the medals.

j.mcdermott@theday.com

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