Arnold Eugene Bench was born in Fordland, Missouri, on April 13, 1925, to James and Zula Bench. He was the youngest of four children. His father was a disabled World War I veteran, and the family became very close as they worked together, sometimes picking cotton, to survive the depression years. At age seventeen, Gene enlisted in the Marine Corps, and served in the Pacific during World War II, earning the rank of staff sergeant before his discharge following the war. He returned home to attend the University of Missouri, earning a bachelor’s degree in math education and a master’s of education in guidance and counseling. While a student at the university, he met and married Ila May Kelley. After graduation, he returned to active duty, receiving his commission as second lieutenant in 1950. He eventually attained the rank of colonel.
Colonel Bench was a “Marine’s Marine” — dedicated, compassionate, loyal, and courageous. During his career, he served as an infantry officer in various positions around the world: guard officer in Naples, Italy; staff officer, 3rd Marines, 3rd Division at Camp Fuji, Japan; operations officer at Guantanamo Bay during the Cuban missile crisis; Marine Officer Instructor at Oregon State University from 1963 to 1966; commanding officer of 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines in Vietnam from 1966 to 1967; and Inspector General of the Marine Corps in Washington, D.C. Also during his career, he was selected to attend the prestigious National War College in Washington, D.C., and received a second master’s degree in international affairs from George Washington University. He was awarded 21 medals, including the Silver Star, Legion of Merit, Bronze Star with gold star and combat “V,” the Vietnam Cross of Gallantry, and the Purple Heart.
Colonel Bench had a tremendous influence on those around him. He was characterized by all who knew him as a firm but compassionate leader with an unparalleled wit and storytelling ability. One of his fondest memories was of the time he was the Marine officer instructor at OSU, and he noticed a student who had been attending both the morning and afternoon sessions of the same class. When asked why, the student responded, “Because you never tell the same stories to the different classes, and the stories are the best part of your lecture.”
Marines in the field recall him as a tireless and caring leader, affectionately referring to themselves as “Bench’s Bastards.” Several have told him that the principles of leadership they learned from him shaped their own careers—some military, and some civilian.
After retiring from military service in 1973, he worked as an agent with Farm Bureau Insurance for fifteen years, and was an area chairman with Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve for several years. He was an avid outdoorsman and a member of numerous organizations, including the Izaak Walton League, Silvies Club, Marys River Masonic Lodge 221, the Military Officers Club, bridge clubs, and Calvin Presbyterian Church.
Gene died of cancer on June 22, 2001; he was survived by his wife Ila, their two children, Rebecca Butler and David Bench, three grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.
The leadership award, funded by the generous donations of Colonel Bench’s family, is presented annually to the OSU Marine student who most epitomizes dedication, professionalism, selflessness, and esprit de corps. The award includes a commissioning packet of Marine Corps emblems and rank insignia, and the recipient’s name is engraved on a plaque permanently displayed in the Naval Armory. The award may go to either a male or female student with selection criteria including, when possible, prior USMC service. The Fund also provides an annual scholarship for a male or female Marine ROTC student in his or her sophomore or junior year at OSU.
Lieutenant Frederick E. Pokorney Jr.
“A message to all” by Carolyn “Chelle” Pokorney:
I lost my husband and my hero in Iraq in 2003. To honor his memory and support Marine ROTC students at Oregon State University, my daughter and I have established the Lt. Frederick E. Pokorney, Jr. Memorial Scholarship.
Fred and I were married in Washington State when Fred was an enlisted corporal in the United States Marine Corps for security forces at Bangor, Wash. Fred applied for and was accepted to the Marine Commissioning Enlisted Program (MCEP) for only the elite of the military. We moved to Corvallis, Ore., where Fred attended OSU to attain his degree in political science and history. Upon his graduation March 23, 2001, Fred received his commission as a second lieutenant.
Fred attended The Basic School (TBS) in Quantico, Va., and graduated in the top 20 of his class. He was then stationed at Camp Lejeune, N.C., in January 2002. Fred was assigned as an artillery officer with the 1/10 Artillery unit and was shipped off to the Artillery School at Ft. Sill, Okla., for six months. He was then deployed on January 11, 2003 to Iraq. He was killed two years to the date of his commissioning, March 23, 2003, in An Nasiriyah, Iraq.
Fred was promoted posthumously to first lieutenant the day he was killed in action. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery on April 14, 2003.
Fred loved mountain bikes, basketball, and SCUBA diving with his brothers-in-law, and he was always helping others–those close to him and his community. As a family, we enjoyed traveling the United States, sightseeing, going to the beach, gardening, and picnicking on the river for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.
This scholarship will continue Fred’s legacy as our “Hero” and “Gentle Giant”–he was 6’6”. He was awarded the Silver Star for his bravery in his last moments while leading his Marines in the Battle of An Nasiriyah. His commitment to his Marines is embodied with this scholarship award to a future candidate of the USMC ROTC. His daughter, Taylor, will be given the honor to present this award in her Daddy’s memory to express her love for him, and giving back to his Marines will help heal the tremendous void in her heart.
We all, Fred’s family and friends, truly believe that making this positive act from his tragic loss will allow us to hold his love in our hearts forever. The honor, courage, and commitment he had for his Corps will continue through this scholarship.
We believe every American should support our future young military leaders of this nation in their hearts and minds, and can do so by supporting such endowments as Fred’s with a small donation. We owe much to those who give their lives so selflessly to protect our freedoms.