At 95, Alfred D. Benjamin has done a lot. He served more than 30 missions in World War II as a member of the US Eighth Air Force, where he was shot down in Belgium and forced to hide from the Germans before finding safety. After the war, he created his own video and audio business, got married and had three children. He now has six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
But he is not finished with his accomplishments yet—he can now check off playwright and director from his list.
His play, titled “In the Dark of the Night,” will be performed to a full theater on Saturday, October 12, at 7:30 PM in Southport’s Bonvie Ballroom.
“In the Dark of the Night” is a heroic saga that chronicles his experiences as an airman. The play, which is separated into three parts, includes humor as well as moments of anxiety, as the crew faces different horrors of bombing missions. All of the characters are real people he knew, although he changed their names.
Mr. Benjamin, a Southport resident who has lived in Mashpee for the last 20 years, has been a speaker at veterans’ ceremonies in which he had to write many different speeches. He decided to look through his old keepsakes from the war to see if there was anything he could use for a new speech. He came across a poem he wrote when he was 20 years old in the Air Force.
The poem titled “In the Dark of the Night” would become the centerpiece of his play. It describes his sixth mission when the crew left at 4:30 AM in a B-17 to bomb the enemy. It recounts the horrors of flying on a clear day (which made it easier to be spotted) and watching other planes around him fall.
One stanza of the poem reads:
The air war that we fight is so very strange / we never see our enemy at real close range / we drop our bombs and do our tricks/ and hope the target is cement and bricks...
Mr. Benjamin does not consider himself a poet, rather “I just felt that I wanted to memorialize that particular mission.”
Throughout his service, Mr. Benjamin served as a navigator and ended his two years stationed in England as a first lieutenant. He flew twice as many missions as the average airman, according to a previous feature story from the Enterprise. He received the Purple Heart, four battle stars, the Air Medal with four oak leaf clusters and the French Legion of Honor for his services.
Mr. Benjamin laughed when he recalled the time when they had to jump out of a burning plane. He hesitated and was pushed out. While falling, he saw a fellow crew member wiggle around in his parachute. Mr. Benjamin asked what was wrong, and the member said he was just trying to get his last cigarette.
His play, which includes some of this comedy, begins in 1995 at a 50th anniversary reunion of the war. Veterans of the crew are there being interviewed by a reporter from Time magazine, and each crew member introduces themselves.
The second act starts with his poem, and the crew begins to recount the mission, ending with jumping out of the plane. In the third act, the crew is picked up by the Belgian Free Forces and brought to a hospital. Locals thank the crew for being their saviors, and then the crew discusses one more mission before the play ends.
Mr. Benjamin finished the 40-page play in 2017. He wanted to write it as a memento for his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, so they would remember what he did in the war.
The cast, which is made up of Southport residents, has rehearsed three times this week. They have had about nine rehearsals, Mr. Benjamin said.
“People will not expect that we are perfect performers,” Mr. Benjamin said. “We are a bunch of amateurs trying to pull this thing off.”
Arthur Wagman, Mr. Benjamin’s neighbor and friend, will act the role of the pilot, Joe Fisher, in the play. He read Mr. Benjamin’s play before he considered putting it on stage and thought it was extraordinary.
“I thought it was a wonderful piece of history,” Mr. Wagman said, “as well as a very empathetic and an in-depth view of the thoughts on some of the young men who fought in World War II. I really thought it was just a great piece and great presentation.”
He hopes people will come to see the play to remember what happened in the war. Younger people do not give too much thought to WWII anymore, he said.
“A lot of the exploits and the heroics of the guys who fought in the war are going to be lost,” Mr. Wagman said. “I think going to see the play is kind of a refresher course on what happened and what these men fought for.”
About 250 tickets have been sold, and the play has raised about $6,000 through ticket sales and advertisements. All proceeds will go to different local charities, including the Boys & Girls Club, Southport Scholarship Committee, Cape Cod Healthcare, Heroes In Transition and the Mashpee Senior Center.
His wife of 70 years, Lorraine Benjamin, has been by Mr. Benjamin’s side, helping with the bookkeeping and planning the event. She jokingly called herself the “chief assistant.” She said the whole process has been very gratifying, but she is nervous for the performance.
“I’m nervous, and I’ve been working hard,” she said, “but there’s so many things that he brings into it.”
“What we hope is that they remember what all these kids who were 18 and 19 did to help us win the war,” Mr. Benjamin said. “Without what we did, we wouldn’t have won the war.”