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Benis M. Frank, 82; vet started Marines' oral history program

March 19, 2007|From the Washington Post

Benis M. Frank, a Marine Corps chief historian who started the military branch's oral history program, died March 10 at Prince George's Hospital Center in Cheverly, Md. He was 82 and had congestive heart failure.

Frank was a Marine Corps veteran of World War II and the Korean War and rose to the rank of captain in the Marine Corps Reserve.

After a career in sales and teaching, he took a civilian job with the Marine Corps in 1961. He worked in the History and Museums Division and started its oral history section in the early 1960s.

He was chief historian from 1991 until retiring in 1997.

Among his books were "A Brief History of the 3d Marines" (1962), "Okinawa: Touchstone to Victory" (1970), "Halsey" (1973) and "U.S. Marines in Lebanon, 1982-1984" (1987).

Of the last book, New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman wrote that it was an "extremely enlightening and useful history of the corps' 18-month experience in Lebanon as the Marines themselves saw it.... It is not only a valuable short history but also a gold mine of raw material for anyone who might want to write about this misadventure."

Frank was general editor of the History and Museums Division's World War II 50th anniversary series of commemorative monographs. He also contributed to the Simon and Schuster Encyclopedia of World War II, the Dictionary of American Biography, the Oxford Companion to American Military History and other reference works.

He was a recipient of the Navy's Distinguished Civilian Service Medal.

Benis Morton Frank was born in Amsterdam, N.Y., and grew up in Stamford, Conn. He was a 1949 history graduate of the University of Connecticut and did graduate work in international relations at Clark University in Worcester, Mass.

He participated in the invasions of Peleliu and Okinawa during World War II and returned to active duty in the Korean War, serving as a battalion intelligence officer.

He was a fellow and former governor of the Company of Military Historians and former managing editor of its quarterly publication, the Military Collector & Historian.

Survivors include his wife of 46 years, Marylouise Swatowicz Frank of Bowie, Md.; three children; a brother; five grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter.

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