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With Pearl Harbor serviceman's remains identified, a small Iowa town asks: 'Who was Mr. Bennett?'

Robert Bennett still a mystery to Monona officials, historians, vets

The USS Oklahoma was sunk by several bombs and torpedoes during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, killing 429 crew members on board. (National Archives and Records Administration)
The USS Oklahoma was sunk by several bombs and torpedoes during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, killing 429 crew members on board. (National Archives and Records Administration)

MONONA — More than 76 years after Robert Bennett’s death in the attack on Pearl Harbor, the remains of the 18-year-old Iowa serviceman have been identified.

The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced Monday it had identified the remains of the young man from Monona.

Since the announcement, city officials, historians and veterans in the small Clayton County town say they are searching for any record of the sailor.

“He’s on everyone’s lips,” said Roger Bollman of the AMVETS Post 27 in Monona. “Who was Mr. Bennett?”

By Wednesday afternoon, all locals had recovered was Bennett’s birth certificate, city administrative assistant Sophie Landt said.

According to the birth record, Robert James Bennett was born in Monona on Sept. 11, 1923. His parents were Myrna M. Fette, 18, and Jack Bennett, 26. Newspaper archives show the family lived in Dubuque at the time of the sailor’s death, according to The Telegraph Herald.

Landt said city officials have contacted local cemeteries, area schools and the Monona Historical Museum but have not yet found more information about the serviceman.

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“I’m trying to find him in our records here, checking birth records on microfilm,” museum curator Carol Marting said.

The Bennett name “isn’t that familiar in the area,” Marting said, and she and others have yet to find any living relatives of Bennett’s.

While Monona waits to learn more about the fallen sailor, Bollman said the identification of Bennett’s remains and potential homecoming has been uplifting for veterans.

“Mr. Bennett’s remains being verified and documented, it’s another son of Iowa that has the opportunity of returning home,” said Bollman, 68. “It’s very exciting for the veteran community to know that kind of thing is ongoing. Regardless of where his interment might be, I’m really confident he’ll have a great showing of veterans present at his burial should he come home.”

Navy Fireman 3rd Class Bennett was assigned to the USS Oklahoma, according to the Defense Department, when Japanese aircraft fired multiple torpedoes at the battleship on Dec. 7, 1941.

It quickly capsized near Ford Island, Pearl Harbor, and the attack left 429 crewmen dead.

U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, in a statement Wednesday, honored the service of Bennett and others killed at Pearl Harbor.

“I also want to thank the work of those at the U.S. Department of Defense, who are dedicated to identifying the remains of those who have fallen,” Ernst said in a statement issued after The Associated Press first reported this story. “Their work helps the families and friends of these servicemembers, and allows us to properly honor these American heroes.”

Following the 1941 attack, Navy personnel worked to recover the remains of the USS Oklahoma’s crew until June 1944. The remains were interred in the Halawa and Nu’uanu cemeteries in Honolulu until 1947, when members of the American Graves Registration Service disinterred and transferred them to a laboratory at Schofield Barracks in Honolulu.

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Lab staff in 1947 were able only to identify the remains of 35 men. The unidentified remains, including those of Bennett, were buried in 46 plots in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.

The men’s remains were again exhumed in 2015 for scientific analysis. Bennett’s remains were identified on Aug. 13 using mitochondrial DNA and Y-chromosome DNA analysis, anthropological analysis and circumstantial evidence.

Bennett’s name is recorded on the Walls of the Missing in Honolulu. A rosette will be placed by his name to show he has been accounted for.

“He would have been 95 this year,” AMVETS’ Bollman said. “To have died at 18, one of our military heroes as a result, it’s heartening to see they’ve identified his remains so he can come to a final rest.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8330; molly.duffy@thegazette.com

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