Unknown Sailor

S1c James Thomas Benson

James Thomas Benson became a young man at a hard time for the country and his family.

He was born Nov. 17, 1919, in Collingsworth County, Texas, where his father, John Benson, was a farmer and his mother, Onie Norris Benson, a homemaker. By 1930 the family had moved back to Alabama, the father’s home state, and he went to work at a coal mine.

Both the father and an older son, Alfred Edward, worked at a New Castle, Alabama, coal mine in 1939, but between them earned just $1,150 — equal to about $21,000 in 2020. Their wages supported a household of seven. About 20,000 Alabama miners went on strike that spring and stayed off the job for two months or more. John Benson ended up working just 13 weeks that year and Alfred 43.

Meanwhile, James Thomas had completed two years of high school and by spring 1940 was looking for work. He enlisted in the Navy on Sept. 28.

The oldest Benson son, Frederick Frank, died in a motorcycle accident in October 1941. Less than two months later, James Thomas was dead, too. He was a seaman first class on the U.S.S. Arizona at Pearl Harbor when it was bombed by Japan on Dec. 7.

Alfred Edward served in the Army from January 1943 through December 1945.

Sources: The Selma (Alabama) Times-Journal; The Birmingham (Alabama) News; grave markers; Census; Navy muster roll; U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs death file. Naval History and Heritage Command photo. This profile was researched and written on behalf of the U.S.S. Arizona Mall Memorial at the University of Arizona
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