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Medal of Honor Monday: Army Pfc. Emory L. Bennett

When Army Pfc. Emory Lawrence Bennett’s company was ordered to retreat from a lopsided battle in Korea, he volunteered to slow the enemy’s charge so his fellow soldiers could escape. Bennett lost his life doing so, but he saved countless others. For his sacrifice, he was posthumously presented the Medal of Honor.

Bennett was born Dec. 20, 1929, in New Smyrna Beach, Florida, to Sterling and Stella Bennett. He had three older brothers, all of whom served in and survived World War II.  

When Bennett was 6, his family moved to Merritt Island before settling a year later in Cocoa, Florida, where Bennett spent the rest of his childhood. His parents ran Bennett Fish Market, and he and his brothers often helped catch fish to sell from the Indian River. The family also enjoyed duck hunting, and Bennett was known to be a good shot.  

Bennett graduated from Cocoa High School in 1948. According to a 2001 Florida Today article, he attended business college in Jacksonville before enlisting in the Army on July 25, 1950, about a month after Korean War hostilities broke out.  

Bennett went to basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, before receiving additional training as an engineer. However, he was transferred to the infantry as the conflict in Korea grew and more U.S. troops were needed. In February 1951, Bennett was sent to Korea and placed with Company B of the 15th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division. 

On June 23, 1951, Bennett’s company attacked a hill near Sobangsan and captured it from Chinese troops. They managed to hold it overnight and part of the next day. Bennett was wounded in the skirmish but refused to be evacuated, his family told the St. Lucie News Tribune in 1990.  

The next day, at about 2 a.m., two enemy battalions — about 1,500 men — swarmed up the ridgeline in a ferocious human wave, known as a banzai charge, to take back the hill, Bennett’s Medal of Honor citation said. The enemy also attacked with heavy artillery, mortar and weapons fire.  

Bennett’s company, made up of about 200 soldiers, was completely overwhelmed, but they retaliated with bravery, causing as much destruction as possible. The enemy pressed forward, however, threatening an imminent collapse of the U.S. defensive perimeter. 

Fully aware of the odds against him, Bennett unhesitatingly left his foxhole and moved through the withering fire to stand within full view of the enemy. According to his Medal of Honor citation, he used his automatic rifle to pour crippling fire into the ranks of the onrushing enemy combatants, killing many and wounding several others. Although injured himself, Bennett kept up his one-man defense until the attack was briefly halted. 

In that lull, Bennett’s company tried to regroup for a counterattack, but there were too many enemy soldiers who soon infiltrated the position. Company B was ordered to fall back.  

When the call came for volunteers to provide cover fire for the men as they retreated, Bennett stepped up. As his comrades fled, he continued to rain fire down on the enemy until he was mortally wounded. Soldiers who survived the ordeal later reported about 50 enemy soldiers piled up around Bennett when they last saw him. 

Bennett’s self-sacrifice saved many lives. His courage and devotion were recognized on Jan. 16, 1952, when his father received the Medal of Honor on his behalf during a Pentagon ceremony. Nine other fallen soldiers were also awarded the nation’s highest honor for valor that day.  

Bennett’s remains were returned to the U.S. in November 1951; he was buried in Pine Crest Cemetery in Cocoa.  

Bennett’s home state has not forgotten him. In 1993, a veterans’ nursing home in Daytona Beach, Florida, was built and named in his honor. A monument to the young soldier was erected in Riverside Park in Cocoa, and the Bennett Causeway in Brevard County was also named for him. On Merritt Island, a wing at the Brevard Veterans Memorial Center is dedicated in his honor.  

This article is part of a weekly series called “Medal of Honor Monday,” in which we highlight one of the more than 3,500 Medal of Honor recipients who have earned the U.S. military’s highest medal for valor.

Source: Department of Defense

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