Bennon Dees

At the time of the mutiny trial, Bennon Dees was a 19-year old Seaman First Class from Zion Hill, Alabama who went to school through the seventh grade. (Tr. 407, 410.) In the explosion, he sustained hand, leg, and back injuries. (Tr. 406.) He was hospitalized for four days after the explosion, according to the findings of the Navy’s Court of Inquiry.

Seaman Dees testified that he did not receive an order to load ammunition after the explosion.

Q: Since the explosion have you been ordered to load ammunition?
A: No, sir. (Tr. 408.)

He stated that he was afraid to load ammunition both before and after the explosion. (Tr. 408.)

Q: When did you make up your mind, Dees, that you did not want to handle ammunition?
A: Well, I was really afraid to handle ammunition, I am willing to obey orders but I am afraid to handle ammunition. (Tr. 409.)

Dispelling three lines of prosecution argument, Seaman Dees testified that he did not see or sign a list while in the barracks at Vallejo; he did not talk to anyone to convince them not to load ammunition or have anyone talk to him about not loading ammunition; and he denied that he attended any meetings among the men while on the barge at Vallejo. (Tr. 409.)

He acknowledged that while on the barge he signed a statement relating these facts: 1) that he was afraid to load ammunition and 2) that he heard a man state that he did not want others to smoke on the barge and that all the men should obey the shore patrol. (Tr. 410.)

He described that on August 9 he was taken to the recreational hall where he spoke to an officer he had seen before but did not know. (Tr. 411.)

Q: What did he say to you, Dees?
A: Well, he asked me was I – would I obey orders and I said, “I will.” He asked me would I – again he asked me would I – will I handle ammunition and I [said], “I am willing to obey orders but I am afraid to handle ammunition, sir.”

Q: What happened then?
A: Well, he said, “Well, there’s one way to say it, ‘yes’ or ‘no’.” I said, “Well I hate to say ‘no’ because I am willing to obey orders.” He said, “Well you’ve got to say either one of them.” I said, “no, sir, I am afraid to handle ammunition.” Then he sent me out to the ballfield. (Tr. 411.)

On cross examination, the prosecution focused on a statement dated August 30, 1944, attributed to Dees. The prosecutor asked Dees questions about whether he made certain statements quoted by the prosecutor, and each time Dees answered in the negative.

Q: All right, do you remember talking to Ensign Walden at Shoemaker about the thirtieth of August of this year?
A: Yes, sir, I do.

Q: Now, at that time didn’t you make this statement, “I hear some of the boys say that the speaker at the meeting said, ‘if the boys stick together, there would be no trouble’”?
A: No sir.

Q: Didn’t you make that statement to the ensign?
A: No, sir. (Tr. 412.)

Similarly, Dees denied another key statement attributed to him by the ensign.

Q: Now I will ask you did you tell the ensign at Shoemaker on the thirtieth of August that the speaker at the meeting on the barge said that all we have to say was that we were afraid to load ammunition and if we all stick together nothing would happen?
A: No, sir, I didn’t say that. (Tr. 412-13.)
Seaman Dees admitted that his signature appeared on the statement and that he read the statement before he signed it. (Tr. 413.) The statement was received into evidence..

Seaman Dees was convicted of mutiny and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor, followed by a dishonorable discharge. His sentence was later commuted to three years.

The Task Force has not yet been able to learn very much about what happened to Mr. Dees after the war ended, other than it appears he may have resided in the Chattanooga, Tennessee area at some point.