Thursday, June 2, 2011

Illuminating the life of a World War II hero

Mark D. Bingaman

One of the most rewarding aspects of work with the Lucas County Historical Society collection involves the connections people are able to make with the past through our artifacts, especially when they are able to use artifacts to illuminate the lives of those with whom the artifacts were associated.

That certainly was the case over the Memorial Day weekend with items donated during 2009 that are related to U.S. Navy Yoeman First Class Mark D. Bingaman, killed with 836 other naval personnel on March 19, 1945, aboard the U.S.S. Franklin when it was attacked by a Japanese bomber after maneuvering close to the Japanese mainland.

The small collection, assembled by Mark’s mother, Elsie J. Bingaman, who died during 1952, included the Western Union telegram that informed her of Mark’s death, one of his Naval uniforms, a few letters, a photograph of Mark and a variety of newspaper clippings. Mark’s father, Robert Bingaman, had died during 1940.

The contact came from Matt Moul, a television production editor now living and working in California. He is Mark Bingaman’s grandson.

The said circumstances of war, however, had disrupted family ties that many of us take for granted. Mark had married Marcella K. Norris and their only son, Robert Lee, was less than a year old when his father was killed. Marcella eventually remarried and Robert Lee was adopted and assumed the surname Moul.

Although Matt Moul had been given photographs of his grandfather and had accumulated considerable genealogical information about the Bingaman family, he still had many questions about his grandfather: What had he been like? What would it have been like to know him?

A wonderful personal letter in the 1999 accession, written to Elsie Bingaman by one of Mark’s former commanding officers, filled in a few of those blank spots, adding among other information the fact that Mark had been known as “Bing” by his friends and associates. Here is that letter.

Mark Bingaman was buried at sea, but his family erected a memorial stone for him at Oxford Cemetery, where Robert and Elise and an infant son are buried.

I drove out Memorial Day morning to take a photo of that stone, adding it to the collection of living history we were able to share with a young man now older than his grandfather was at death, hoping to get to know him better.

A uniform worn by Mark D. Bingaman, who served aboard the U.S.S. Saratoga for four years prior to the oubreak of World War II.

By Frank D. Myers

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