Army Cpl. Ralph Bennett was laid to rest beside his family members in Ames Municipal Cemetery during a memorial service last Saturday morning, following a 75-year-long journey to bring him home.
Bennett, an Ames native and World War II soldier killed in battle in North Burma in 1944, went unidentified for more than seven decades. His remains were identified in April, and he was returned home on August 1.
“There are truly no words that can express how happy our entire family is,” said Char Mullin, Bennett’s niece, who continued to search for her uncle’s remains after her mother’s passing in 1998.
“I just look up to the heavens and say, ‘We got it done, mom. We got it done, grandma.’ It’s a family effort and we are so thrilled it ended this way, and in our lifetime. It has touched a lot of lives,” she said.
The memorial service was at 11 a.m. Saturday, which was deemed “National Ralph Bennett Coming Home Day” by both the city of Ames and Story County, in honor of the first homecoming of a deceased World War II veteran in the state of Iowa.
The funeral procession, led by American Legion Riders, included family members who came from around the country to honor Bennett. Community members also lined Ninth Street from Grand Avenue, and gathered at the cemetery, to welcome him home.
Ames City Council member Tim Gartin and Story County Supervisor Lisa Heddens were among the memorial service’s crowd. They both said it was an honor to be there as witnesses to the ceremony, and to show respect for Bennett and his family.
“The family experienced a great loss, as did the community. This is our opportunity to welcome home a hero. Our hearts are with the family, and this is a very special day in our community,” Gartin said.
“Its closure for the family to have him brought home, and to have the number of people who came out to recognize the service and sacrifice of Ralph,” Heddens added. “I hope this gives them some piece of mind.”
In a story published in the Ames Tribune on July 4, Mullin, of Huxley, detailed the exhaustive and emotional journey to locate and identify the remains of her uncle, who was 22-years-old when he died.
On Saturday, she and her brother Ron McMillen sat side-by-side as they were handed an American Flag and purple heart, ending the search that spanned three generations.
Full military honors were provided by the Iowa National Guard.
State Sen. Herman Quirmbach, of Ames, said, as the service concluded and the crowd trickled out of the cemetery, “One of our own has been brought home, after 75 years. There are so many who are lost, from every war, who are never brought home, and I am so pleased for the family. It reminds us all of the sacrifices.”
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