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PHOTO — William “Bill” Benson, a longtime member and former president of West Haven Vietnam Veterans, stands behind the granite U.S. Army insignia marker Monday, May 6, at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Bradley Point Park. Benson, an Army veteran of the Vietnam War, was instrumental in raising funds to build the memorial, dedicated in 2003, which includes the granite wall of “Those Who Served.” He will lead the city’s Memorial Day parade as grand marshal when it steps off at 10:30 a.m. Monday, May 27, along Campbell Avenue. (City Photo/Michael P. Walsh)
WEST HAVEN, May 21, 2019 — Vietnam veteran William “Bill” Benson will lead the city’s Memorial Day parade when it steps off at 10:30 a.m. Monday, May 27.
Benson, 71, will guide the 55-unit procession of veterans, dignitaries and bands along the 1 ½-mile parade course, which follows Campbell Avenue from Captain Thomas Boulevard to Center Street.
An Army veteran who served a tour of duty in the Vietnam War, he embraced the honor with typical grace and humility.
“I love West Haven, and this is a very great honor,” Benson said of being named grand marshal. “The honor is not only important to me but to all Vietnam veterans.”
Benson was tapped by the West Haven Veterans Council, which helps the city organize the annual parade, for his years of service to the Army, his fellow vets and his community, the latter of which is perhaps the cornerstone of the qualifications for grand marshal, council President Dave Ricci said.
“I am very pleased with the selection of Bill Benson as this year’s grand marshal,” Mayor Nancy R. Rossi said. “On behalf of the people of West Haven, we honor Bill’s wartime service and his commitment to all veterans.”
Rossi continued: “On this occasion, it is appropriate to remember those who did not return from Vietnam and other wars while also recognizing the many veterans, like Bill Benson, who live and work among us. Thank you for your service, Bill, and welcome home!”
Benson’s contributions to the Veterans Council, the governing body of the city’s veterans organizations, are well known.
He is a longtime member of West Haven Vietnam Veterans, formerly Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 647, and served as president in the early 2000s. Before and during that time, he was instrumental in raising funds to build the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Bradley Point Park.
To this day, Benson helps maintain the grounds of the memorial, which includes a black granite wall inscribed with the names of those from West Haven who served or gave their lives in Vietnam from 1959 to 1975 and three white flagpoles draped with the American, state and prisoner-of-war flags.
The memorial, dedicated Nov. 12, 2003, also includes a black granite map of the four battle districts of Vietnam bearing the inscription, “All Gave Some, Some Gave All,” and five bronze insignia markers atop black granite posts representing each branch of the U.S. armed forces.
Benson is a former member of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9422 and has volunteered for the past four years at the West Haven Veterans Museum & Learning Center, 30 Hood Terrace, where he gives tours to seniors, schoolchildren and veterans.
A living history of America at war, the 9,000-square-foot museum displays collections from the 102nd Infantry Regiment and the New Haven Grays, a protective force formed after the War of 1812. It also shows relics from each conflict since the U.S. fought for independence, allowing visitors to walk a timeline around the camouflage-clad warehouse off Sawmill Road.
This year’s edition of southern Connecticut’s oldest and largest parade of its kind has no rain date and will feature three marching divisions and a military division, as well as special accommodations for disabled veterans.
The procession will include an eight-seat golf cart carrying former grand marshals that is bedecked with a star gracing the names of those deceased. Other veterans will ride on a float.
It will also include a flyover by a C-130 Hercules, a four-engine turboprop military transport aircraft operated by the Connecticut Air National Guard. Benson will steer the procession from a two-seat golf cart flanked by the West Haven Police Color Guard.
The hourlong parade, in memory of the deceased members of the U.S. armed forces of all wars, will showcase the city’s legion of veterans groups.
For the first time in recent memory, the procession will consist of nine marching bands, including five from West Haven — Bailey Middle School, Carrigan Intermediate School, Notre Dame High School, the Stylettes Drill Team and Drum Corps and West Haven High School — and four from New Haven: Bishop Woods Architecture and Design Magnet School, Celentano Biotech, Health and Medical Magnet School, Clemente Leadership Academy and the Nathan Hale Marching Patriots.
It will also spotlight the traditional contingent of youth organizations and sports leagues, dance troupes and Scout troops, fraternal organizations and service clubs, local and state leaders, police officers and firefighters.
Benson, the oldest of four siblings, was born in New Haven. He grew up on Legion Avenue near Greenwood Street and attended Hillhouse High School.
In November 1966, Benson was drafted by the Army at age 18. He completed basic training eight weeks later at Fort Gordon, Georgia, followed by advanced training in heavy weapons, demolitions and booby traps in preparation for Vietnam.
In November 1967, he was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment, known as the Old Guard, in Vietnam. He was an infantryman and later a squad leader who conducted search-and-destroy missions.
Benson fought in battles in the Mekong Delta, pushing through rice paddies and bamboo trees, heat and monsoon in southwestern Vietnam. He also saw action during the Tet Offensive, a campaign of surprise attacks launched in January 1968 by forces of the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese against forces of the South Vietnamese, the United States and their allies.
He was wounded by shrapnel on three occasions and received the Purple Heart for his injuries in combat. He also received the Combat Infantry Badge and the Helicopter Assault Badge.
“I was lucky to hold myself together to get out of Vietnam,” said Benson, whose father served in the Army in World War II and grandfather served in the Army in World War I.
From la Drang to Hue, U.S. troops won every major battle of the Vietnam War. Through more than a decade of combat over air, land and sea, they upheld the highest traditions of the armed forces. And more than 58,000 sacrificed all they had and all they would ever know in service to their country.
After his tour of Vietnam ended in November 1968, Benson was assigned to the 2nd Armored Division for riot control training at Fort Hood, Texas.
He praised his four years in the Army, including three years of active duty.
“It was an honor to serve this country anyway I possibly could,” said Benson, who was honorably discharged as a specialist E-4 in November 1970.
After the Army, Benson moved to West Haven and earned his GED diploma from Hillhouse while working as a driver for The Amerling Co., an automotive supply distributor at 170 Boston Post Road. He later worked as a driver for Latella Carting Co. of Orange.
From January 2002 to September 2017, he was a laborer and later a driver for the West Haven Department of Public Works.
Benson lives on Eaton Street in Allingtown with his wife of 40 years, Alice.
William “Bill” Benson, a longtime member and former president of West Haven Vietnam Veterans, stands behind the granite U.S. Army insignia marker Monday, May 6, at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Bradley Point Park. Benson, an Army veteran of the Vietnam War, was instrumental in raising funds to build the memorial, dedicated in 2003, which includes the granite wall of “Those Who Served.” He will lead the city’s Memorial Day parade as grand marshal when it steps off at 10:30 a.m. Monday, May 27, along Campbell Avenue. (City Photo/Michael P. Walsh)