Legionnaire of the Month
Our next long time member of Post 23 to be recognized is Nelson Benson. Arthur (aka Nels) Benson was born at the family farm on December 19, 1930. Nels said with a chuckle “I attended school at Rock County Dist. 52 where I was “the Valedictorian of my class”. But when I entered high school in Garretson the competition was greater, so my Valedictorian status did not continue. After graduating in 1948 I farmed with my dad and brother until I was drafted. In May of 1952 they sent me to Ft. Riley KS. After basic we had two choices—Korea or Jump School. I signed up for Jump School and to my surprise that is what I got. I was sent to Ft. Benning GA.” Nels made this training sound like a piece of cake. “All we had to do was run out of the plane. Our rip cord was tied to the plane and that triggered the chute. We were only about 1,500 feet off the ground so we didn’t free fall for long. After learning to jump alone we had what they called ‘heavy drop training’. We would drop almost any kind of military equipment--jeeps and even bigger equipment. I remember one time we dropped a road grader and the chute didn’t open. Man did that dig in the dirt and bust into pieces. But you had to be careful and I remember one fatality when a guy slipped and fell out of the plane. In the fall of ‘52 I was sent to Ft. Lee, Virginia to Parachute Packing School. We basically did the same kind of jumping but now we had to pack our own chutes. This was one job that you wanted to make sure you did right the first time as there would be no second chances if you got it wrong. I’m kinda proud of that photo with me showing my Paratrooper Insignia Patch.
Nels went on the say “I’m one of the luckiest guys around. I think everyone else that attended basic training with me was sent to Korea. After Parachute Packing School instead of going to Korea, they sent me to Ft. Sill OK where I worked in Supply. My job was to issue parachutes and my shift was from 6pm to midnight. It was boring as we didn’t issue many chutes at night. It was so slack that on my first 3 day pass they said I could take 8 days. My next pass was 5 days and I was gone 11. There was almost nothing to do so I started working for a big farmer who also owned the sale barn. I worked in the wheat, corn and sorghum fields driving tractor and feeding cattle. I even ate there but still went back to sleep on base in what we called ‘the hotel’. I had some of the easiest military duty anyone could ever have and before I knew it my two years were up.”
“Although my body was in Oklahoma, my heart was still in South Dakota. So when I was discharged I came right back home to farm with my Dad. Back then if a family member was in the service, another one could get a deferral. So while I was in the Service, my brother Norm had gotten deferral from the draft. When I was discharged he got drafted and went into the Army. I farmed with my dad until my brother returned. Then we all farmed together until I got married.”
On November 20, 1955 Nels married Gladys Fylling from Canton. “We met at the Arcoda Ballroom in Sioux Falls. We farmed together and raised two boys. I continued to farm until I had a bad car accident. If I were not so lucky, I would be dead. I was driving my car up by Arlington and hit a semi. Most people don’t survive a collision with a semi. But I was lucky and hit the dolly wheels—had I hit 10 ft. further back I would not be alive today. I still have mobility problems and can’t stand for any length of time.” (It looks like Nel’s guardian angels not only were watching over him as he jumped out of airplanes but also in his civilian life too).
Nels said “after getting back home I wanted to join the Garretson American Legion and joined right away. It is a good organization and I have paid my dues faithfully for 61 years. I did not get as involved as I should have. I guess my excuse was that I was too busy farming. Now that I’m older, I have the time to attend meetings but I don’t drive and can’t get out like I used to. My memory isn’t as good either, so Harlowe Sundem has to remind me when to pay my dues”.
I would note that many of the “212 Post 23 members” are not as active as they could be. For a time, I would include myself with that group. But even just paying dues for membership is still a very important part of supporting Post 23 and all that it does. Without that, we would not have a Post, a Color Guard to conduct military honors at funerals or do any of the important functions that Post 23 does. Nels, thank you for your 61 years of continuous membership in Post 23. Thank you for doing what you were asked to do when called to serve our country.