Mervyn Sharp Bennion (05 May 1887 to 07 December 1941) was a United States Navy captain who served during World War I and was killed while he was in command of battleship USS West Virginia (BB-48) during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour in World War II.
He posthumously received the Medal of Honour for “conspicuous devotion to duty, extraordinary courage, and complete disregard of his own life.”
Bennion was born in Vernon, Utah Territory on 05 May 1887. The religion of the family, which he shared, was The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His Welsh grandfather, John Bennion, had immigrated to Utah with the Mormon pioneers and established successful cattle operations near Taylorsville, Utah. Bennion was living near Preston, Idaho when he received his acceptance to the United States Naval Academy. Bennion graduated third in his 1910 class from the United States Military Academy (USMA). Coincidentally, his younger brother Howard Bennion, graduated first in his class of 1912 at the USMA).
Bennion’s first assignment after graduation was on the USS California (ACR-6) in the engineering division. Subsequently, he was an ordnance and gunnery specialist serving in the Ordnance Bureau at Washington Naval Yard during World War I. Bennion’s first command was the destroyer USS Bernadou (DD-153), followed by command of Destroyer Division One. He assumed command of the USS West Virginia on 02 July 1941.
Bennion was killed in action during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, 07 December 1941, while in command of the battleship USS West Virginia (BB-48). He was mortally wounded by a shrapnel shard from the nearby USS Tennessee after she was hit by a bomb. Cook Third Class Doris Miller and several other sailors attempted to move Captain Bennion to a first aid station, but he refused to leave his post, eventually ordering his men to leave him and save themselves. Using one arm to hold his wounds closed, he died from loss of blood while still commanding his crew. Bennion was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honour.
Bennion is buried in the Salt Lake City Cemetery.
Medal of Honour Citation
Bennion’s Medal of Honour citation reads:
For conspicuous devotion to duty, extraordinary courage, and complete disregard of his own life, above and beyond the call of duty, during the attack on the Fleet in Pearl Harbor, by Japanese forces on 7 December 1941. As Commanding Officer of the USS West Virginia, after being mortally wounded, Capt. Bennion evidenced apparent concern only in fighting and saving his ship, and strongly protested against being carried from the bridge.
On 04 July 1943, the destroyer USS Bennion (DD-662), named in his honour, was christened by his widow.
Captain Bennion was portrayed by Peter Firth in the 2001 film, Pearl Harbour.
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