Californians and the Military
Colonel Warren E. Benoit
Commander, 160th Infantry Regiment During The Korean War
 
Colonel Warren E. Benoit: Career of Fighting Man End
by Julian Hartt, Los Angeles Examiner
 
The following artical originally appeared in the January-Febuary issue of the 40th Armored Division's magazine, The Grizzly
 
Col. Warren E. (Ben) Benoit, 36, Korean War commander of "Los Angeles' Own"-the 160th Infantry Regiment of the pre-armored 40th Division -was buried with full military honors on December 1, 1955

Comrades of the young colonel frequently had predicted he either would "be killed or win the Medal of Honor."

With fate's accustomed irony, however, he died when his station wagon left a freeway on U. S. 40 and crashed into all overhead structure near Sacramento on November 25.
 

Family Injured

Tragically, the accident also left his wife, Ja Marilyn, with a fractured neck vertebra which will keep her in traction for weeks. His son. John Warren' just six years old on Christmas Day, suffered compound fractures of both legs, a broken right arm and other grievous injuries, but at last reports his eventual recovery was anticipated. His daughter, Kathy Jo, four, was less seriously hurt.

Whatever the cause of the smashup, it cut all too short one of the most promising military careers in the "hell for leather" Patton school of aggressive warfare to be furthered by the California National Guard.

Colonel Benoit's distinguished career in two wars twice won him the Silver Star, the Bronze Star three times. the Combat Infantryman Badge twice; and the Legion of Merit and, perhaps even more important, the respect of his fellow fighting men as a fearless soldier.
 

Knew No Fear

A much-senior officer to the colonel once told this writer:

"I like to feel I am a brave man. but I feel fear. Ben is fearless. He just doesn't know the meaning of the word."

There were many facets to the character of this officer of less than average stature but stock build, hose dusty, skull-cropped hair, piercing eyes, and the jaunty but businesslike swing of the .45 at his hip-all were familiar "trademarks".

His career with the 40th brought the knowledge to thousands of Southern California's citizen-soldiers that they were serving with an officer who was affable but firm, both tough and devout.
Colonel Benoit's insistence on soldierly conduct and discipline, in quiet or combat, was unquestioned. Yet his troops could count on the fact that at any company "Shemozzle," sooner or later, the colonel would be up in the bandstand tooting away on the clarinet or some other instrument.
 

Ready To Lead

And, while the semi-static Korean warfrout where the 40th was deployed above the 38th parallel offered little opportunity for Colonel Benoit to display his aggressive approach to combat, the troops knew instinctively that when the going was the roughest, their commander would lead the way.

And this writer knows from personal observation that nightly, no matter the exigiencies of the situation, Colonel Benoit would find some moment to read quietly from the Bible that was as much a part of his combat gear as his weapon.

At this period, one sergeant summed it up to me:

"Colonel Benoit is tough-but just. We're glad he's our boss."

And he was able to say that just minutes after the Commanding General had arrived at the 160th's training area in Japan, it was noted pointedly that the Intelligence and Reconnaissance Platoon which greeted him-it "doubled in brass" as the honor unit-was minus its dis1956 distinctive white bootlaces.

The Colonel, despite the impending arrival of the General, had literally snatched them away because the platoon, in which he took inordinate pride as the unofficial competition to the General's own Headquarters Defense Platoon, had fouled up a drill.

At the time of his death Colonel Benoit had moved up to Guard headquarters in Sacramento, and was due for a tour of duty at the Pentagon on with the new year.
 

Drafted in 1941

That meteoric career began in January, 1941, back in "Ben's" home town of Gary, Indiana.

His number was drawn there in the first "fish bowl" draft lottery.

Colonel Benoit swiftly qualified for Officers Candidate School, was commissioned a second lieutenant and assigned to the 14th Armored Division when it was activated in 1942. When the division was sent to Europe in 1944, then Captain Benoit commanded Company A, 68th Armored Infantry Battalion.

At war's end, three bloody campaigns later for the 14th Armored he was the only original company commander remaining with the organization. His decorations and his legend came in these campaigns.

One oft-retold story was of Captain Benoit leading his men across a major rIver bank under cover of darkness, to take a village far in the German rear, then return and overwhelm the Wehrmacht riverbank pillboxes at dawn to open the way for a general assault.
 

Captured Officers

Unexpectedly, in the village he took prisoner most of the local German officer corps. Without waiting for dawn he returned personally and stealthily to the pillboxes, measured their apertures and thickness quietly, then radioed for heavy weapons fire on them.

His request was turned down because fire control officers didn't want to do what "Ben" apparently had disregarded-bring the fire· down on himself as well. So he scurried around to find a jerry can of gasoline, dribbled fuel unnoticed into the pillboxes, touched it off with a match, and blew them up personally.

These exploits won the attention of then Col. Daniel H. Hudelson. who later was to command the 40th in Korea. In 1946, after World War II, he induced Benoit, by then a major, to join the California National Guard as G-3 (operations officer) of the 40th.

As a lieutenant colonel, Benoit succeeded to command of the 160th when the Division was called up for the Korean emergency. He took his organization through the prescribed training cycles-absorbing "draft fillers" in the process-at Camp Cooke and continued the arduous training mission in northern Honshu, Japan.

He rejoined the 40th, in the post Korean War reorganization, as G-3, later going to the Office of the Adjutant General of California in Sacramento as intelligence officer. He was reassigned to the post of G-4 (logistical officer) and promoted to the rank of Colonel.

Such was the career of Col. Warren E. Benoit, whose body now lies in Inglewood Park Cemetery, but whose spirit will live on in the memory of his countless comrades so long as they survive.

About the author: Julian Hartt, a member of The Los Angeles Examiner staff, served with the Navy in the Pacific as a correspondent with International News Service during World War II. He was the only newspaper correspondent to serve with the 40th in the Land of the Rising Sun and in the Land of the Morning Calm during the Korean War. His efforts, in behalf of the Division have been "above and beyond the call of duty".

Search our Site!

Google
Search the Web Search California Military History Online

Questions and comments concerning this site should be directed to the Webmaster
 
Posted 13 May 2016