Norman Gustaf Benson's family was Swedish. His father was born in Sweden and immigrated to the United States at an early age. Benson was born in May 1923 in Middletown, Connecticut. He grew up with one younger brother but they were not close. His father worked in a factory that made fishing equipment. Benson's mother remained at the house to take care of the family. He remained in Middletown until he went to college. His childhood was not bad. The factory his father worked for did well. During the Depression [Annotator's Note: The Great Depression, a global economic depression that lasted from 1929 through 1945], his family did fine. Benson walked to grade school but took a bus to high school. He worked in the factory briefly and mowed lawns. Both of his parents spoke perfect English and Swedish. Benson went to college to study economics. His father collected books. Benson was in college when the attack at Pearl Harbor [Annotator's Note: the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on 7 December 1941] happened. He registered for the draft while in college and joined the military in February 1943. He managed to finish two and a half years of college. He decided to join the 10th Mountain Division. Benson had never been outside of Connecticut when he went into the service. His parents did not mind that he was drafted. One of Benson's sons graduated from West Point [Annotator's Note: United States Military Academy in West Point, New York]. He thinks his service influenced his son. He later became a petroleum engineer. Benson went to boot camp in Colorado, outside of Leadville. The camp was torn down after the war. Benson was not afraid and was in a good outfit [Annotator's Note: Benson served as a mortarman in Company B, 1st Battalion, 85th Mountain Regiment, 10th Mountain Division]. Many of the people in the unit were college students and were all very smart. During basic training, Benson became a mortar team leader and a rifleman. He was trained to ski and snow-shoe. The division was formed in May 1943. A new regiment was formed when Benson was in the division, the 85th Mountain Regiment. Before he went overseas, Benson did six-months of training near Austin, Texas. After completing training, he returned home on furlough [Annotator's Note: an authorized absence for a short period of time]. He saw things differently when he returned home.
Norman Gustaf Benson left the United States in January 1945. He sailed from Newport Beach, Virginia and landed in Naples, Italy and was then taken to Genoa [Annotator's Note: Genoa, Italy]. His unit [Annotator's Note: Company B, 1st Battalion, 85th Mountain Infantry Regiment, 10th Mountain Division] was organized and marched to the frontline. Benson enjoyed Italy, especially the historical part. The people were very nice, and Italy was pretty. He spent a few weeks patrolling the front, but there were no enemies. There were three divisions fighting the Germans and Benson's was the most effective. There was another American division and a Brazilian division. Benson's company was not the first to see combat, but it was on the front line. In Benson's first combat, he had a section of 60mm mortars [Annotator's Note: M2 60mm lightweight mortar] and about 15 people, but ended with six. He lost a lot of people, including one of his best sergeants. The sergeant as in charge of winter clothing at a grocery in Chicago [Annotator's Note: Chicago, Illinois]. Benson was able to see through that man's head. He did not expect to see that kind of thing. He spent eight days on that mountain, which was like hell. He kept digging and digging. Three of his men were killed and the rest were wounded. The Italians were fighting with the Americans, but the Germans were fighting. The Americans were not afraid and had better weapons. After taking one mountain range, he could see the Po River Valley [Annotator's Note: Po River, Italy]. Benson crossed the valley quickly and took some German vehicles. He ended the war on the southern edge of Lake Garda [Annotator's Note: Lake Garda, Italy]. Benson was in the hospital because of a case of the flu. He helped fire mortars in his squad. He had three mortar teams under him. The lines would be right in front of the mortars. In the eight days he was on the mountain, the Germans tried to advance, but the mortar teams would fire on them. Benson carried a carbine [Annotator's Note: .30 caliber M1 semi-automatic carbine] during the war. When the mortars fired, the Germans would fall back. When the war ended, the Germans were on the west end of Lake Garda. The Americans were in a palace with good wine. Benson was able to visit Rome [Annotator's Note: Rome, Italy] and Florence [Annotator's Note: Florence, Italy] and stayed with civilians, who he thought were very nice. He enjoyed himself on the trip. He traveled around Italy alone. Benson left Italy in September 1945 and the division was disbanded in Fort Campbell [Annotator's Note: Fort Campbell, Kentucky], but it was later reactivated. Benson did not want to stay in the Army.
Norman Gustaf Benson used the G.I. Bill after the war to attend the University of Maine [Annotator's Note: in Orono, Maine]. He graduated from college in 1948 with a degree in biology. He eventually earned a master's degree in zoology and a PhD from the University of Michigan [Annotator's Note: in Ann Arbor, Michigan] in fisheries. Benson's first job was research near Vanderbilt, Michigan. He then took a job in Tennessee, which was a good job, but a challenge. He had never spent much time in the south before then. From there, Benson did research in Logan, Utah and Yellowstone National Park [located in Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho]. At the same time, he had a growing family. His kids loved growing up in Yellowstone. They lived in a house on the lake. Benson had five kids by that time. He retired in 1985. The war taught Benson quite a bit. He met a diverse group of people and was able to travel. He thinks his service was valuable. Benson went places he would have never been otherwise. Benson developed physically and mentally. He learned how to climb and how to maneuver around rocks and mountains. He experienced mountain climbing for the first time in the service. He thought the food was good, and he ate plenty of it. Benson lost two men in a battle, and it was something he will never forget. They were good friends, and he could not save them. Benson kept digging his hole deeper whenever he could. His captain was also killed. Benson felt lucky. He was never injured in battle. The war introduced Benson to European people and the country. He feels closer to Europe. Benson spent time in Italy, Germany, and Yugoslavia. He thinks it is important to keep teaching the future generations about the war. He thinks people should know about the war, the mortality rates, and the importance of having the correct clothing to keep comfortable. Benson's wife was a major motivator for him through his life after the war. He thinks it is important for children to learn about the diversity in the country and the world. He does not think there is enough exposure to those things. He was discharged as a staff sergeant. Benson had the opportunity to remain in the Army and get a commission, but he did not want that. He never thinks about what his life could have been like if he stayed in the military.
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