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Where are you Benny Goodenberger?

by Peary Perry
Peary Perry
I wrote this column a year or so ago and got several responses. I have since gone back and looked over the letter my uncle wrote(see info in the article) and it now looks like he was trying to write ‘Dover, MANE’…Of course that should be spelled Maine, but I looked up Dover, and found there is Dover, New Hampshire right on the border of Maine and New Hampshire. So, the Benny he is referring to may have been from New Hampshire. I thought about running this once more this year on the off hand chance someone new might recall this lady and perhaps she is still alive. I think it would make a great ending to a love story. Thanks.
After visiting with some folks at dinner the other night, I told them about this situation and then it dawned on me that perhaps someone out there who reads this stuff of mine might, just might be able to help me.

In May of 1942, I had an Uncle by the name of Mark Davis. Mark was in the Merchant Marine and was assigned to serving on oil and gasoline tankers coming up the east coast from New Jersey to Texas. In May of 1942, he was on the SS Virginia coming out of New Orleans when a German submarine, the U-507 torpedoed the ship.

The Virginia went down and as I recall about 14 of the crewmen lost their lives. I’ve never been able to find out the exact details of what happened that day, since the records are so old and scattered. But, in any event my Uncle must have done something to help the survivors since as a result of his actions, a Liberty ship was built and named after him. My Mother and Grandmother were the sponsors and when I was growing up, I remembered the pictures of them christening the ship in Houston.

How does this relate to today?

Well, a couple of years ago, my oldest Aunt, knew I was interested in my Uncle’s history and she sent me a number of letters, newspaper clippings and other items that told about the ship being sunk. She also sent me the telegrams from the War Department that were sent to my Grandmother telling her that her son had been killed. He was buried out in Odessa, Texas.

I decided to contact a model ship maker and had a model made of the Liberty Ship, Mark A. Davis. During the six months or so while the model was being built I went back and reread some of the letters that Mark had written.

In his last letter to my Grandmother, he told her he was carrying a load of highly flammable aviation gasoline and anything should happen to them, he would think it very doubtful that he would survive. Of, course something did happen to him and he was killed.

In looking at this last letter, I found a curious notation. He writes…”Mom, I am worried about this trip…if, by chance anything should happen to me, there is this girl, Benny Goodenberger, in …………, and I’d like you to tell her what happened to me.”

The problem with this letter is that no one can tell what town he is telling us that Benny lived in. It looks like Denver, but could be Dover. He wasn’t in Colorado at any time, but he had been in Maine…is there a Dover, Maine or a Dover anywhere on the east coast?

Now, what occurred to me is that knowing the capabilities of the world in 1942, I am fairly certain my Grandmother made absolutely no effort to find Miss. Goodenberger. If I can’t read his writing 62 years later, I’m sure she couldn’t either.

So, what do you think we have here?

Well, let’s suppose Miss. Goodenberger fell in love with my Uncle Mark. He gets on a ship and sails away, never to return. The ship was sunk off the coast of Louisiana during the war. The newspapers weren’t too eager to publicize the fact that German submarines were lurking just off our coasts. Miss. Goodenberger might never have know what happened to Mark, since no one knew how to contact her and tell her. So, it’s possible she has spent all of this time wondering why he never came back.

I went on line to Google and looked at the number of Goodenbergers listed in the entire country. There were only about 20 or so. None of them lived in any town or city that resembled a Dover or Denver. I mailed each of them a letter explaining what I was trying to do. A couple called me, but sadly had no information or had ever heard of any Goodenberger named Benny.

It’s possible that she is still alive somewhere. Of course by now, she would have to be in her eighties, but could certainly be alive. I’m wondering if the US Census for 1940 would have her listed and might be available?

Anyway, it’s a long story, but one that I’d like to resolve. If anyone out there has any suggestions on what I might do next or where to look….drop me a line. We might just solve this thing yet…..wouldn’t that be nice?
© Peary Perry
Letters From North America

February 2 , 2005 column
Republished January 23, 2008
Syndicated weekly in 80 newspapers
Comments go to pperry@austin.rr.com

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