September 6, 2010
The Honorable Stephanie Herseth Sandlin
343 Quincy Street
Rapid City, SD 57701
343 Quincy Street
Rapid City, SD 57701
Re: Medal Request PFC Benjamin Kaiser WW II
Dear Congresswoman Sandlin:
I respectfully request your assistance in recognizing the heroism of PFC Benjamin Kaiser during World War II in Italy. After his untimely death In the course of heavy action north of Rome no one had the time to recognize and document his heroism.
I served with the South Dakota National Guard 109th Combat Engineers during World War II. I have attached a proposed citation. The following is excerpted from my memoirs as I remember the action.
" A Lieutenant took Joe Pauley and me to a beach somewhere north of Rome. It was a lovely sand beach a hundred or so yards long, with trees at the north end and buildings and a long pier at the south end.
The trouble with the beach was a continuous series of tank mine patterns for its full length. Each pattern was about 30 yards long by 10 yards deep. They were Italian mines — wooden, canvas and with mostly plastic detonators and probably sixty mines in each pattern, four rows with mines six feet apart.
They were not hard to find because some were exposed by blown away sand. By noon Joe and I had exploded probably three hundred mines, ten at a time with a block of TNT on each with detonators wired in series. Then the pattern changed and between each anti tank mine was an anti personnel mine — the dreaded “Bouncing Betty” S mines.
We had gotten well into one such pattern when the Lt. came back, I guess to see if we’d blown ourselves up. His reaction was, “This job is too big for two men. I’ll get a line platoon out to help.” Forty men to replace two men!
The Lt. left and when the platoon (about forty men) arrived we introduced two key GIs, Ben Kaiser and John Machnic, to the mine pattern where we had been working. Both were fully capable and experienced with mines, so Joe and I left and went to the far end of the beach and started working back, leaving them and their NCOs to plan their work.
In about thirty minutes we heard a big bang and saw body parts flying. Something had triggered an S mine. I suspect it was booby trapped or a “hang fire” (partially activated detonator).
In the four to seven seconds that Ben Kaiser had to think — between the detonator activation “pop” and the S mine coming out of the ground — he must have decided to try to keep the mine in the ground with his own body.
It cost Ben his life. John Machnic was also killed. Two other men were wounded by S mine pellets. We had a 4 x 4 weapons carrier (pickup truck) and hauled the two wounded, Ken Helseth and Ray Franz, to a field hospital. We returned to find we still had the job of reassembling Ben and taking his and John’s bodies to grave registration.
Somehow even death can seem routine in some circumstances. At the time, his heroism wasn’t obvious. Decades later, when I was reviewing explosions that contributed to my hearing loss, I finally recognized the heroic act by Ben. He spared his platoon buddies from many casualties. If his platoon hadn’t taken over, Joe and I perhaps would have been the casualties.
Since recognizing his very heroic action I’ve contacted Benny’s relatives in South Dakota and a brother and nephew in California who were most thankful to have knowledge beyond the simple military notice and especially of the almost certain act of heroism."
I appreciate your effort to recognize the heroism of Benjamin Kaiser. Thank you for your consideration.
PFC BENJAMIN KAISER
109th ENGINEERS, 34th INFANTRY DIVISION
SOUTH DAKOTA NATIONAL GUARD WW II
Citation to accompany the award of the Bronze Star Medal with V Device
FOR GALLANTRY IN ACTION AGAINST AN ARMED ENEMY, WHILE SERVING AS A COMBAT ENGINEER DURING OPERATIONS NORTH OF ROME, ITALY IN WORLD WAR II WITH THE 109TH ENGINEER BATTALION OF THE 34TH INFANTRY DIVISION. PFC KAISER WAS CLEARING A LARGE MINE FIELD NORTH OF ROME, ITALY. THE WOODEN ITALIAN MINES WERE BOOBY TRAPPED WITH THE “BOUNCING BETTY S MINES, MAKING THE MINE CLEARING OPERATION VERY HAZARDOUS. IN THE FOUR TO SEVEN SECONDS THAT BEN KAISER HAD TO THINK FROM THE DETONATOR ACTIVATION “POP”AND THE S MINE COMING OUT OF THE GROUND PFC KAISER DECIDED TO KEEP THE MINE TO THE GROUND WITH HIS OWN BODY. HE THUS GAVE HIS LIFE TO SAVE THE LIVES OF HIS COMRADES. PFC KAISER'S PERSONAL COURAGE, TACTICAL EXPERTISE, AND PROFESSIONAL COMPETENCE WAS DIRECTLY RESPONSIBLE FOR HIS PLATOON’S OVERALL SUCCESS AND SURVIVAL AND FOR THE SURVIVAL OF OTHER MEMBERS OF HIS PLATOON. HIS LEADERSHIP AND BRAVERY REFLECTED GREAT CREDIT UPON HIMSELF, THE 109TH COMBAT ENGINEERS, AND THE UNITED STATES ARMY.