Born at Macon, Bibb County, Georgia, September 25, 1855, he graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1877.
He first saw sea duty on the USS Hartford in the South Atlantic Squadron. He subsequently served aboard the Old Constitution, and the USS Yantic during the Arctic Expedition of Army Lieutenant Adolphus Washington Greely, aboard the USS Dolphin in 1888-89, and the USS Chicago in 1898-99.
He was advanced to Ensign in 1881, to Lieutenant in 1893, to Lieutenant Commander in 1900, to Commander in 1905 and to Captain in July 1909. During 1909-10 he was Chief of Staff of the Pacific Fleet, at the same time commanding the USS Albany. In 1911-13,he commanded the Great Utah, the largest warship then in the world.
His assignments ashore included various posts at the Naval Academy, including instructor, 1890-93, and 1896-98 and Commandant of Midshipmen in 1907-08, and comand of the Philadelphia Navy Yard from 1913 to 1915. In May 1915 he was appointed to the newly created post of Chief of Naval Operations (CNO), with the task of creating, within the limits set by the civilian administration (Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels, Assistant Secretary Franklin D. Roosevelt) a central staff, akin to the Army's General Staff, for coordinating Naval training, supply and planning.
He was promoted to Rear Admiral in May and to full Admiral the following year. He contributed greatly to the improved efficiency and battle-readiness of the Navy. During his time as CNO, significant steps were taken toward developing aircraft and submarine forces for the Navy. He was abroad in 1917 and again in 1918 as Navy Representative in the Allied war planning councils, and in 1919 he was the Naval adviser to the U.S. delegation at the Versailles Peace Treaty Conference.
He retired with the rank of Rear Admiral on reaching the statuary age of 64, September 1919. From 1920 to 1928 he served as Chairman of the U.S. Shipping Board, from 1920 to 1921 he was trustee of the Emergency Fleet Corporation. In 1921-25, he was the first President of the National Council of Catholic Men. He was advanced to Admiral on the Retired List, June 1930.
He died in Washington, D.C. on May 20, 1932 and was buried in Section 3 of Arlington National Cemetery, where he rests among other family members.
BENSON, WILLIAM S
- United States Navy
- DATE OF DEATH: 05/20/1932
- BURIED AT: SECTION 3 SITE 1873-B
- ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY
Reviewed by: Michael Howard