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Peter Morgan Bentson’s athletic frame filled a doorway, just as his infectious laugh would fill a room and his boyish ear-to-ear grin would fill your heart.
He was born in New London, CT, on Dec 22, 1940, the only child of Brent and Mildred Bentson. Pete showed natural leadership at a young age and was president of his class at New London High School. He also lettered in several sports and was captain of the football team. He would thrive on sports and competition all of his days.
At West Point he threw himself into cadet life with the same enthusiasm and energy he had always shown. He played baseball for three years and was manager of the Hockey team before he turned his talents to the collective good by joining the newly formed “Rabble Rousers.” His leadership was obvious, and he was selected in his first class year to command Company E-1.
At graduation he was commissioned Infantry, and after Basic he attended Ranger and Airborne courses before joining the 82nd Airborne Division. At Ft. Bragg he soon married Peg Jupe, the girl from Ossining who had captured Cadet Bentson’s heart when he was a firstie. Hard soldiering and obvious potential soon saw him selected as a Scout Platoon Leader, then Battalion Adjutant of his new unit. It was at Ft. Bragg that Kristine Lynn Bentson was born. Pete was a natural born “Dad,” loving every minute of fatherhood.
After President Kennedy’s decision to expand the Special Forces, Pete was one of the young officers chosen for his potential to help our Army make that change. He served in Panama with the 8th Special Forces Group for two exciting years. Son Eric Todd was born there on Halloween of 1966, and the celebration reflected all of Pete’s joy. He felt out of the main stream in Panama, however, and pushed for an assignment to Vietnam.
In 1967 the Personnel Center answered his wishes and sent Pete to the 1st Cavalry Division in Vietnam where he commanded two companies. He was highly decorated and served with a level of distinction that assured his accelerated promotion to major. Following the Advanced Course, he attended the prestigious Naval Postgraduate School. To Pete’s great joy, a third child, daughter Jodie, was born during his time on the Monterey peninsula.
On his second Vietnam tour, he was assigned to the Third Regional Assistance Command. True to form, Pete was a junior major holding down a full colonel’s position as Corps level G3 when, on July 9, 1972, a single round from a North Vietnamese recoilless rifle took him along with MG Richard Tallman ’49, COL Stanley Kuick ’52, and two other officers. Peter Bentson died a soldier’s death “beneath a soldier’s blow” and was honored accordingly. Family, friends and classmates came from around the world to lay him in “a soldier’s resting place” at the West Point Cemetery not far from other dearly loved classmates.
His 1963 Howitzer write-up fairly captured his essence:
From the beginning, Pete has always been the guy to be near. This big ‘Swede’ is one long memory of the best times. Always a leader in every aspect of cadet life, his ability to command any situation will always find him in the winner’s circle.
Pete was a tireless and motivated professional who worked hard. It was his intense loyalty to friends that kept him always surrounded by a band of dedicated buddies—partners in work, sports, and fun. To be embraced into that cohort meant you were in for better than your share of fun; more importantly, you were joining a support group manned by the finest American soldiers around. Any one of them would pull you out of a tight spot on a moment’s notice without blinking an eye. He was a patriot, a compelling natural leader of men, and he was endowed with a sharp analytical mind and tireless drive to get the job done.
Pete gave two hundred percent to his young family. What a grandfather he’d have been. We all know Pete was smiling down when his widow Peg married his friend, classmate, and former bachelor roommate Tom Carney.
Pete has been gone for four decades now—half our lifetime—but our memory of him lives on. As the rest of us start on our final laps around the track, hobbling a bit now and breathing harder to keep up, we see Pete ahead in the hazy distance charging on ever youthful in our memory. He’s frozen like Keats’ athlete on the urn at the prime of his too-short life. He’s out in front kicking hard even as he urges, cajoles, and presses the rest of us to levels we’d not otherwise have reached.
He died a soldier’s death on foreign soil doing what duty, honor and country compelled him to do. Yet, even as we mourn his passing, grieve the loss of what could have been, we celebrate who Pete was and what he brought each of us during his short stay on earth.
Rest easy, old friend, and fear not, we’ll be closing ranks with you presently. The gang will all be there before you know it.