An Army honor guard carried the casket containing the remains of Army Sgt. First Class Alfred Bensinger into a waiting white hearse Wednesday at Will Rogers World Airport, a solemn homecoming decades in the making for the Korean War POW.
As the Delta Air Lines MD-88 carrying Bensinger taxied to its airport gate, fire trucks fired their water cannons over the jet in his honor. A TSA color guard stood at attention. Passengers watching from upstairs inside the terminal removed their hats.
Oklahoma Highway Patrol motorcycle officers and a phalanx of Patriot Guard Riders then escorted him from the airport to Smith and Turner Mortuary in Yukon where a short ceremony honoring POWs was held.
Gary Clayton estimates he last saw his father when he was 2. He has no memory of him, and has struggled throughout his life with how he feels about a man he never knew.
“He disappeared in my life when I was 3 years old,” Clayton said. “Much later I found out what happened to him and the chances of him coming back were slim to none. I go through my life with someone who I always said had no meaning to me because I never knew him. As I progressed and got older, I realized that wasn’t true. There is still an amazingly strong connection there.”
Born in Oklahoma City, Bensinger served in the 2nd Engineer Combat Battalion, 2nd Infantry Division in Korea. In the fall of 1950, his unit found itself withdrawing through a mountain pass as the Chinese army pursued them.
The 2nd Engineer Battalion held the enemy off long enough for other troops to evacuate, but
in turn found themselves surrounded. More than 700 troops were killed or taken prisoner. Bensinger was one of them. He was officially declared MIA in 1950.
Returning POWs reported Bensinger died in January 1951 at Hofong Camp while a prisoner. His remains were identified by the POW/MIA Accounting Agency in July.
As his father’s flagdraped coffin was unloaded, Clayton stood with family members. Even with months to prepare, he found himself navigating emotions he hadn’t anticipated.
“Intellectually you have something you are prepared for and you think emotionally you would also be ready, but I wasn’t,” he said. “This whole thing is amazing to me.”
Clayton began to confront his father’s absence in his teens.
“My mom was just amazing about it,” he said. “When I was younger she told me about him and wondered if I had any questions. I had a couple but it wasn’t anything significant. I didn’t have any real questions until I was 16 or 17. It was very emotional back then.”
Bensinger also served in the Pacific theater during World War II from 1943 to 1946. He was just 25 when he was declared a POW.
A second procession will escort him to Fort Sill National Cemetery in Elgin on Friday for an 11 a.m. service. For Clayton, Friday will be about closure, or at least the closest he will come to it.
“It’s amazing you have a love for somebody that you never really knew, but I love my dad,” he said.
An Honor Guard stands at attention Wednesday to welcome home the remains of WW II and Korean War Army veteran Alfred Bensinger Jr. at Will Rogers World Airport.
Army Sgt. Alfred Bensinger during his service.
The remains of WW II and Korean War Army veteran Alfred Bensinger Jr. are unloaded off of a Delta Airlines plane at Will Rogers World Airport. Bensinger went missing during the Korean War.
Army Sgt. Alfred Bensinger during his service. Bensinger’s remains were returned to Oklahoma City on Wednesday.