BY DUANE A. VACHON – Mervyn Sharp Bennion was born in Vernon, Utah Territory on May 5, 1887. A member of 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 graduated third in his 1910 class from the United States Naval Academy. Coincidentally, his younger brother Howard Bennion graduated first in his class of 1912 at the United States Military Academy.
After graduation, his first assignment was in the engineering division on the USS California (ACR-6).
Bennion became an ordnance and gunnery specialist. During World War I, he commanded the batteries aboard the USS North Dakota (BB-29).
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 July 2, 1941.
Bennion was killed in action during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941, while in command of the battleship USS West Virginia (BB-48) when shrapnel from a bomb that blew up part of his command deck hit him.
Cook Third Class Doris Miller and several other sailors attempted to move Bennion to a first aid station, but Bennion refused to leave his post. Using one arm to hold his wounds closed, he bled to death while still commanding his crew. Captain Bennion posthumously received the Medal of Honor. He is buried in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Only two lives were lost from the ship’s complement of officers and men, Bennion and one seaman. The wounded Bennion were attended to promptly and evacuated from the ship with dispatch. He was courageous and cheerful to the last moment of consciousness and his spirit was reflected in the conduct of his crew.
When the first attack was over, he allowed himself to be placed on a cot and the cot to be moved under a protecting shelter on the deck.
There he remained during the second Japanese attack, which occurred an hour after the first. He resisted all efforts to remove him from the bridge with a firmness and vigor that astonished officers who thought they knew him well but did not realize how much force there lay behind his gentle ways.
Felled and dying, he would not permit his removal, but continued at his post to the end, concerned only with fighting and saving his ship.
Mervyn’s immediate commander, Admiral Anderson, wrote to his widow, “He was an able officer and fine gentleman, respected by all, a good example to all his juniors.”
In his tragic but glorious death, mortally wounded in action on the bridge of his ship, a destroyer named the U.S.S. Bennion was christened in 1943 by his wife Louise.
In 1951, the Salt Lake City Navy Mother’s Club dedicated a plaque in honor of World War II veterans in Salt Lake’s Memory Grove. Bennion also was honored in 1968 by the University of Utah’s Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps, which dedicated the midshipmen wardroom in the Naval Science Building to him.
Captain MervynSharp Bennion is buried at the Salt Lake City Cemetery, Salt Lake City, Utah, USA Plot: West-3-148-1-Cent.
Medal of Honor citation
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.