Skip to comments.Davis-Monthan Air Force Base to honor World War II gunner Benko
Posted on 05/01/2008 5:01:28 PM PDT by SandRat
DAVIS-MONTHAN AIR FORCE BASE In the early 1940s, Art Benko of Bisbee was trained at this airfield, which was then out in the desert near Tucson.
Benko was a top turret gunner on a B-24 Liberator bomber during World War II and would become known as the top bomber gunner in the Army Air Force. His exploits included the downing of seven Japanese planes on one mission over then-French Indochina.
On May 22, officials at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base will dedicate the installations fitness and sports center in honor of Tech. Sgt. Art Benko.
Honoring Benko sits well with Cochise County residents who are working on a couple of other projects for the World War II veteran who was killed after bailing out of his plane on Nov. 15, 1943, near Hong Kong.
Benkos body was never recovered. It has been assumed the nonswimmer drowned after landing in the Hsi Chiang River, with his body eventually floating out to sea.
Attempts to have Benko awarded a Distinguished Service Cross or a Medal of Honor is in the military bureaucracy, said retired Army Col. Robert Browne. Benko was posthumously awarded a Legion of Merit. While alive, Benko received two Distinguished Flying Crosses, three Air Medals and two Purple Heart Medals.
The paperwork, which was forwarded by the Arizona congressional delegation, was initially being processed by the Air Force, but now it is in Army channels because Benko was a member of the Army Air Forces during World War II, Browne said.
Supporters contend Benko deserves a high award for combat valor in light of the fact that Army Air Force fighter pilots had been awarded a Distinguished Service Cross or Medal of Honor for downing multiple enemy aircraft and none of those reached seven as Benko did on one mission.
Bisbee resident Nick Pavlovich said another project is to build a monument to Benko in Bisbee to honor his exploits and to recognize 75 other Bisbee area residents who were killed in World War II.
The top of the monument will be dedicated to Benko, and the bottom will list all the names of those killed-in-action from the area, Pavlovich said.
The monument is scheduled to be placed near the overlook to the Lavender Pit. Benko worked as an electrician for a copper mining company in Bisbee.
That Benko was a top shot while a member of a bomber crew can partially be credited to the fact that from 1937 to 1939 he was an expert rifle shot and was the top Arizona shooter at that time.
He also was an expert with a pistol and an accomplished skeet shooter.
He scored 143 out of a possible 147 at one national rifle competition.
During his missions in Asia, Benko shot down 16 Japanese aircraft, four on one mission, five on another and seven, the most ever by any top turret gunner, on an October 1943 flight to bomb Japanese forces in Haiphong harbor.
According to reports, during a 40-minute running air battle against at least 40 Japanese fighter aircraft, during which Benko was slightly wounded, he shot down seven of them.
Two other gunners in his airplane, named The Goon, were each credited with two enemy fighters during the battle.
That day a total of 30 Japanese planes were downed by gunners from the 21 B-24s on the mission. The Goon gunners were credited with 11.
Benko was called a tinkerer, and he was credited for inventing a targeting device to lead an enemy plane before firing, which was adapted by other gunners.
In October 1943, Benko was named Yank of the Week and was featured on the Blondie and Dagwood coast-to-coast radio show. The sponsor of the show sent 300,000 cigarettes to U.S. service members in his name, even though Benko did not smoke.
As for his accomplishment of downing seven enemy aircraft in one day, a reporter noted: Grey-haired, soft spoken Sergeant Arthur J. Benko blazed his way into the position as one of the leading, if not top, aerial gunners of the U.S. Amy Air Forces as he personally accounted for seven of the Japanese attackers during the running fight.
Benko was 31 years old when he enlisted.
He was survived by a daughter, who never married and who has since died. There are no other known family members.
Some of Benkos personal possessions that were kept by his daughter, whom he called Bee, will be part of a permanent display at the Davis-Monthan Fitness and Sports Center.
Herald/Review senior reporter Bill Hess can be reached at 515-4615 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cool guy - RIP.
Too bad today’s Bisbee is an slagpile infested with leftist dung beetles. No doubt the fellow traveler ‘interpreters’ at Bisbee’s ‘Heritage’ museum must be choking on this hero’s legacy.
Makes one sort of ashamed of what one did NOT do on 9-12-2001, doesn't it. Even those of use who served earlier and were a bit longer in the tooth than that.
Volunteered 5 times since 9-12-2001 to return as a Retiree Retread and turned down 5 times.
Consolidated B-24 Liberator
(Variants/Other Names: C-87; C-109; LB-30; PB4Y-2 Privateer; RY-3; Liberator C IX)
History: Life for the B-24 heavy bomber began in 1939, when the U.S. Army Air Corps initiated a request for a new bomber designed to exceed the performance of the B-17. Consolidated Aircraft responded quickly with its proposal, labeled Consolidated Model 32 and, on March 30 of 1939, was awarded the contract. One day short of nine months later, on December 29, 1939, the first flight of the XB-24 bomber prototype took place.
Slightly smaller than the B-17, the turbosupercharger-equipped B-24 flew farther with a bigger bomb load than the much more publicized Boeing aircraft.
Thanks for sharing this story! WWII era gunners don’t often get credit or glory for what they did (much less gunners in the CBI). Sgt Benko obviously had some serious “skillz”.
I’m glad they’re honoring him.
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