[NOTE: This installment in a series about my father’s life and his role as an “American Dad” takes him, his wife, and, eventually, their first child, through the end of the Second World War (For earlier posts, go here and here.)
Ben Lamplugh’s National Guard service dated from early 1941, according to fragmentary military records acquired by his wife Betts. (As happened to thousands of other Americans who served in World War II, Ben’s official records were destroyed in a fire in St. Louis.) Yet, Betts said that she first met Ben in the summer of 1940, when he was already a member of the Maryland National Guard, stationed at Fort Meade, in Baltimore.]
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In the Spring of 1940, Betts graduated from Newark High School and wanted to work as a medical secretary, but there was no affordable school nearby. Instead, she went to work at the Continental Diamond Fiber plant in Newark, Delaware. Ben Lamplugh’s brother Bill’s wife, Maxine, worked there, and that’s how Betts and Ben were introduced (i.e., Bill and Maxine “set” Betts and Ben up on a date at their home outside of Newark). Around that same time, though, Betts met J.B., a native of Iowa who, after graduating from high school there, headed east to join his father in Maryland.
Betts said that Ben and his buddy Joe Lofthouse (who lived in Elkton, Maryland, a short drive from Newark) were in the Maryland National Guard “around 1939-1940.” She also claimed that their Guard unit was “taken into the regular army” [i.e., federalized] shortly after the declaration of war against Japan on December 8, 1941. Yet, fragmentary records indicate that Ben’s “National Guard of the United States” military service actually began on February 3, 1941, which probably means that he was in the Maryland National Guard, stationed at Fort Meade, before it was federalized, and tried to visit his brother and sister-in-law in Newark (about an hour or so north of Fort Meade), whenever he could.
If this is true, then Ben certainly could have met Betts after she graduated from Newark High School in June 1940, around the time she also met J.B. If Ben had been in the Maryland National Guard since sometime in 1940, as seems likely, then he probably was able to use leave time to travel from Ft. Meade in Baltimore, to nearby Newark, Delaware, to visit his brother Bill and Bill’s wife Maxine, and, if he was lucky, to snag a date with the vivacious Betts Knighton.
Still, by late 1941, Ben also must have known that Betts was engaged to J.B. Then came the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, December 7, 1941, and the American declaration of war on Japan, Germany, and Italy, on December 8. Like lots of young American men, J.B. decided to enlist in the service, joining the U.S. Marines several days after Pearl Harbor, at eighteen years of age.
Shortly thereafter, the twenty year-old Ben learned that his Maryland National Guard unit had been “federalized,” which meant that he would soon find himself in the U.S. Army.
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In early February 1942, J.B. was sent to Parris Island, South Carolina, for Marine basic training. By May, he had completed that training and shipped out for service overseas. He and Betts were engaged by late 1941, and had hoped to marry in 1942, but they decided to put their wedding plans on hold once J.B. joined the Marines. J.B. soon found himself in Guadalcanal, and by mid-November he had been transferred to Australia. And then came the long-distance argument that led Betts to break off her engagement.
According to my sister Judy, Betts claimed that she never loved Ben as much as he had loved her. In fact, it’s likely that she had loved J.B. from the summer of 1940, when she was 17. After her breakup with J.B., though, Betts turned to Ben, perhaps to spite J.B. Betts and Ben only dated for a matter of months before they wed.
They were married at 7:00 pm, January 12, 1943, by the Rev. C.N. Jones, in Wilmington, Delaware. Ben was twenty-one years old and would be twenty-two in eight days; Betts had turned twenty years of age four days earlier. (Betts later told Judy that, on the day they were married, Ben was absent without leave from Fort Meade.)
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Somewhere around that time, Ben and his buddy Joe Lofthouse volunteered to undergo Airborne training. They were sent to Ft. Benning, near Columbus, Georgia, for basic Infantry training, then on to Fort Bragg, in Fayetteville, North Carolina, where the newly created 82nd Airborne Division had been relocated from Camp Claiborne, Louisiana.
Ben was injured on his fifth training jump. During his recovery from those injuries, Betts visited Ben at Fort Bragg and met Joe Lofthouse and his wife Aggie, probably in late summer/early fall of 1943. During this visit, Betts heard lots of stories about Joe and Ben’s time in the National Guard and in the regular Army. (About nine months later, on May 20, 1944, Ben and Betts’ first child, a son, George, nicknamed “Rusty” because his parents anticipated he would have his father’s red hair, was born. He had black hair.)
Following his time with Betts, Ben learned that his injury disqualified him from completing Airborne training. Instead, he was transferred to a Field Artillery unit at Camp Rucker, Alabama. After several months there, Ben’s unit was sent to Hawaii, where they transported ammunition throughout the islands. According to Betts, during his time in Hawaii Ben even had a few opportunities to play golf, something I have never credited, because he did not mention—or, to my knowledge, participate in—golf again.
More significantly, Ben’s Artillery unit eventually was ticketed for the invasion of Japan as the war wound down. Because of President Harry Truman’s decision to drop the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki (August 1945), however, the war ended before a seaborn invasion of Japan was necessary. Consequently, Ben avoided combat on Japanese beaches and served in Japan only briefly, as part of the American occupying force. He received an honorable discharge from the Army on December 2, 1945.
[Note: This is why, in almost forty years of teaching about Truman’s “decision to drop the bombs,” I used to tell my students that I was of two minds about it—yes, the damage done to Hiroshima and Nagasaki was terrible, but, because of it, my father survived the war. The pre-bomb estimates of American deaths during an invasion of the Japanese home islands had been horrific. Ben Lamplugh returned home at war’s end and was able to plunge into his role as a husband and father.]
End of Part III
Copyright 2019 George Lamplugh
Next: Ben: An American Dad, 1921-1986, Part IV, Postwar America, 1946-1964.
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For those interested in reading more of my reflections on history, here are links to my books on the subject: