The remains of an 18-year-old Monona sailor who died in the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor were identified by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency in September.
The news about Robert James Bennett’s remains sent the small Iowa town’s officials, historians and veterans searching for any record of the young man.
“He’s on everyone’s lips,” Roger Bollman of AMVETS Post 27 told The Gazette. “Who was Mr. Bennett?”
Within days, Bennett’s life had come into focus: His family had moved to Dubuque soon after his birth on Sept. 11, 1923. Bennett, who went by Jim, was an Eagle Scout in the Boy Scouts, a quartermaster of the Sea Scouts and, soon after graduating from Dubuque Senior High School, enlisted in the Navy.
The Navy fireman third class was aboard the USS Oklahoma when Japanese aircraft fired multiple torpedoes at the battleship on Dec. 7, 1941.
The ship capsized, killing 429 crewmen.
The unidentified remains of sailors were buried in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu. In 2015, Bennett’s remains were exhumed and, in August 2018, identified using DNA and anthropological analysis.
When he died, Bennett left behind his parents, Myrna Fette and Jack Bennett, and a younger brother, Donald.
More than 76 years after his brother’s death, Donald Bennett, 91 and living in Germantown, Wis., reacted quietly to the news that the remains finally had been identified.
“He didn’t have much to say, he really didn’t,” Donald Bennett’s son, Matt Bennett, told The Gazette. “You could see there were thoughts that went through his head, but he didn’t say anything.”
WHAT’S HAPPENED SINCE
Robert James Bennett was laid to rest Feb. 4 at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu.
Donald Bennett, now 92, attended the funeral — traveling to Hawaii with Matt Bennett and his wife, Wendy Bennett, and their two daughters.
Speaking to a reporter Monday before the service, Matt Bennett said the family spent time visiting the USS Oklahoma Memorial, where Robert Bennett’s name is engraved on a marble column.
“He’s somebody I never knew,” Matt Bennett said. “But I think it’ll come together once we’re there at the cemetery.”
Robert Bennett, 77 years after his death, was given a funeral with military honors.
Donald Bennett spoke to Hawaii News Now at the funeral, saying it had always been his older brother’s intention to be in the Navy.
“His mother didn’t want him to go to the Navy,” he told the Honolulu-based news organization. “But the minute he had the chance he went.”
In an email, Wendy Bennett said the service was moving for the family.
“It was a very small service, but so powerful,” she said. “Finally, there is closure.”
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