The same positive attitude that helped Peter Benavage survive Iwo Jima now helps him meet the challenges of caregiving.
Peter Benavage’s positive outlook, which carried him through 26 days of artillery and mortar fire on Iwo Jima during World War II, has contributed to a long, healthy and happy life with his wife of 65 years, Corliss, and their son.
But now, during what Pete says are “some of the most difficult times,” he needs more than a positive attitude—he needs help. Delaware Hospice is honored to be at his side, assisting him in caring for his ailing wife.
Peter Benavage enlisted in the Marines at the age of 17. He said, “Britain and France had just declared war on Germany. Five days later, I went to Philadelphia to enlist. I had to lie about my age, but I was prepared. The recruiting sergeant was busy running around, when he suddenly turned to me and asked, ‘How old are you.’ I had it rehearsed and was ready. Later on, another asked, ‘What year were you born?’, and I had that ready, too.”
Peter joined the military with the intention of doing 20 years. He said, “Conditions at home in the coal mining region of the Shenandoah area were very bad, especially during the depression. There was no future here. Joining the military was the perfect solution.”
Through stations at Parris Island, Quantico, Cuba, and then the Pacific—Marshall Island, Saipan, and finally Iwo Jima, Pete said, “Luck was with me. I never got a scratch.”
But there were frightening moments; the worse of them when bullets and shrapnel were flying around.
Pete recalled, “I landed with 230 men in the 2nd wave on Iwo, going in early. No sooner had we hit the beach when all hell broke loose. Artillery fire was so dense at one point that nobody moved. Everybody just huddled on the ground, looking for a deeper hole. We were under fire for a total of 26 days. During that time, we received 101 replacement troops—all were either killed or wounded. Only 87 of us walked off the island. That was the one time that I wondered if it would it really come out okay. But I always had a positive attitude that nothing would happen to me, and that’s how it turned out.
Asked if he witnessed the iconic flag-raising on Mt. Suribachi, Pete answered, “I forget what day it was in terms of the battle, but they said over the radio to look back at Mt. Suribachi. So we looked back and there was Old Glory flying. That was more than a good, warm feeling inside. We realized that now the enemy could only fire at us from one side. Before that, we were being fired upon from both Mt. Suribachi and the northern end of the island. Now we wouldn’t get fire from the Suribachi region, so we felt great to see that flag on the mountain!”
As Pete reminisced, he said, “It’s all part of life. You look back and wonder why did you escape getting wounded and not others? No one can answer. All you can do is count your blessings.”
Pete kept his commitment and stayed in the U.S. Marine Corps for 20 years, achieving the rank of Major upon retirement. Upon leaving the service, he earned his B.A. Degree from George Washington University, his M.A. Degree from Catholic University, and pursued a 30 year career in teaching social studies and geography at Herndon High School in Fairfax County, Virginia. Along the way, he met and married his wife, Corliss, who also serving in the military. He said, “Marrying Corliss 65 years ago was the second best thing that ever happened to me!” Together they raised a son, who followed his parents’ example and joined the Navy. He now resides in Alexandria.
Pete feels fortunate in having called Delaware Hospice to help him care for Corliss during these last few months. He said, “The last time Corliss was in the rehabilitation center, someone recommended that I call Delaware Hospice. I expressed my concern that it meant ‘near death’; but they explained to me that it’s about helping us live a better quality of life. This is a good aim. Some people work all their life; and it’s not fair for them not to be taken care of in their later years.”
“As it turns out, Delaware Hospice has been wonderful. I’ve been impressed with their willingness and ability to work and help out in so many unexpected ways. For example, Corliss was down in the dumps.
I asked her aide, Susan Summerfield, to find out what she’d like for her birthday and anniversary gift, which were coming up. I said, ‘you’ll get a different answer than I will.’ When she asked, Corliss immediately answered, “A cat.’ I agreed, and Susan proceeded to do all the work. She went to the SPCA, and picked out a cat and we presented it to Corliss, who hasn’t stopped smiling since!”
He said, “Susan is also outstanding in the delivery of care. I couldn’t ask for anyone who would do more than she does. She’s absolutely great–not just working, but working to perfection.”
“Having all of the Delaware Hospice team come in takes a big load off my shoulders. They are friendly; they really work at their job to get it done well; and they know what to expect when they walk in the door. They put my mind at ease; but also everybody seems to be concerned about me, too. I can understand why, as caregiving is no easy task.”
Pete said, “But I can’t complain. I’ve been so fortunate. I’ve had a very fortunate life, in terms of surroundings, marriage, all the way around.”
Story Credit: Beverly Crowl, of Delaware Hospice