Recently identified North Dakota veteran buried at Arlington

Private First Class Robert Alexander grew up in Tolley, North Dakota, a small town near Minot. He died in the south Pacific in 1944, and recently had his remains identified. Now, he has finally returned to the United States, to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Robert Alexander of Tolley, North Dakota, died a private, serving our country with courage. On Wednesday, Nov. 16, the private got a hero's homecoming at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C.
Ryan Longnecker / WDAY News
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FARGO — A North Dakota family has now written the final chapter, honoring a loved one lost and missing in World War II.

Just over a dozen family members from Fargo witnessed the moving ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington D.C. on Wednesday, Nov 16.

Eighty-one years after leaving North Dakota to fight for his country in 1941, Robert Alexander came home on an American Airlines flight that pulled up to Reagan International Airport.

The family that never knew him were there to welcome his flag-draped casket.

"My mother and her sisters would always talk about, 'brother Robert,'" said Doug Benson, Alexander's nephew.


Doug Benson, who lives in Fargo, brought his entire family to Washington D.C. to witness the incredible day.

"It's so special for us, that we would have that to share," said Phyllis Benson, Doug's wife.

The Benson's children and grandchildren came to Arlington for the ceremony. Some of them are currently in the military, and at the cemetery.

Alexander would receive the highest burial honors Arlington offers those who served.

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"(F)or me, it's really an important closure because it is like closing this for our entire family, so it's good," Doug Benson said.

Alexander's casket was escorted into a small chapel for a service. Then, slowly and respectfully, the casket was brought from the chapel to the horse-drawn caisson. All the time, The Old Guard never leaving Robert's side.

"How blessed we are to be able to have this closure," said Alexander's great-nephew Darren Benson. "I'm probably most appreciative of this whole thing for mom and dad, and especially dad. I mean, he's always wondered, and it's just really neat."

Alexander was presumed dead after a Japanese banzai attack in 1944 on the island of Saipan in the south Pacific. One of the most historic and memorable moments of World War II.


"Unbelievable odds that he fought against, and fighting shoulder to shoulder with his fellow soldiers," Jason Benson said.

It wasn't until Doug Benson submitted DNA that solved the mystery all these years later.

"Yes, 78 years ago," Jason Benson said.

Finally the answer the family had waited for. After not knowing, always hoping, they all found themselves at Arlington this week. A military band, the horse-drawn caisson, and the casket holding the young man from Tolley, North Dakota.

"To know that he is honored for that sacrifice," Jason Benson said.

There was a 21-gun salute, then, taps.

Kevin Wallevand has been a Reporter at WDAY-TV since 1983. He is a native of Vining, Minnesota in Otter Tail County. His series and documentary work have brought him to Africa, Vietnam, Haiti, Kosovo, South America, Mongolia, Juarez,Mexico and the Middle East. He is an multiple Emmy and national Edward R. Murrow award recipient.

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