Korean War sergeant identified, buried near fellow vet and friend

It may be known as the Forgotten War, but what happened in a freshly divided Korea between 1950 and 1953 left more than 600,000 people dead. Cliff Benoit served in the Army during the war, and survived. He’s now 90 years old and lives outside Boston, where he grew up.

Seven decades ago he met another Massachusetts boy, 19-year-old George Schipani, in Army training. The pair became fast friends.
“He was a very likeable guy,” Benoit said. “Very likeable. He’d do anything for you.”

In Korea, Benoit and his fellow soldiers at first took Pyongyang, the capital of the north. But after China entered the war, the soldiers were surrounded and captured near the village of Unsan. They were forced to march in freezing temperatures over 150 miles to Pyoktong.

Schipani was badly wounded. He had a leg amputated in a makeshift mud hut hospital, but died not long after. Benoit buried his friend in the winter of 1951.

“We dug a hole maybe six inches deep,” Benoit recalled. “Put him in, covered him with rocks, dirt and branches.”

“Why was it so important for you to do that?” asked “CBS This Morning Saturday” co-host Jeff Glor.  “He was a friend,” Benoit said. “A friend in the service is the best friend you’ll ever have. If you get along good with them, you got your ass covered.”

“He had me and I had him,” he added.

Benoit was held for another 28 months as a prisoner of war before he was released. He returned to a hero’s welcome, got married, and raised seven children with his wife. But he never forgot about Schipani, whose body was left behind in a distant land.

Cliff Benoit at the service commemorating his fallen friend CBS News

This January, Schipani’s remains were identified by the U.S. government. When Benoit found out that his friend’s remains had been recovered, he said, his first reaction was “Thank God.”

“When we’re able to repatriate a soldier from a previous war, that’s more of a celebration. It gives the community an opportunity to come out and not only appreciate and show their love and respect for the soldier we’re burying, but they’re also showing a love and respect for all who have served and sacrificed,” said Bob Bean, a casualty officer with the U.S. military.

And 68 years after he first buried his friend, Benoit did it again last weekend – this time, in Somerville, Massachusetts. Schipiani’s final resting place is less than two miles away from where Benoit lives.

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