Wygant, Benyaurd Bourne, 1881-1962
- Existence: 1881 - 1962
Benyaurd Bourne Wygant was born January 14, 1881, at Fort Dodge, Kansas, the son of United States Army officer Henry Wygant (United States Military Academy, class of 1872) and Hellene Nye Sollet Wygant. In his early life, Benyaurd Wygant lived in Oklahoma, North Carolina, Arizona, Kentucky, Utah, and Florida. From Florida Wygant won appointment to the United States Naval Academy, admitted as a midshipman on September 20, 1897, and graduating, with a Bachelor of Science degree, on June 7, 1901. Wygant performed the requisite two years of service afloat after graduation and received his commission as an ensign in the United States Navy. Wygant’s naval service predated his graduation from the Naval Academy. During the Spanish-American War, he held duties aboard U.S.S. Free Lance, U.S.S. Aileen, and, most prominently during the Cuban blockade, U.S.S. Viking. After graduation, early appointments included sea-going service aboard U.S.S. Kearsarge, U.S.S. Newport, U.S.S. Georgia, and U.S.S. Vermont. In 1914, during the Mexican Border War, Wygant took command of U.S.S. Walke. During World War I, Wygant commanded the destroyers U.S.S. Tucker and U.S.S. Colhoun, serving with distinction with United States Navy forces operating out of Queenstown (Cobh), Ireland. Postwar service at advancing ranks included service as executive officer of the battleship U.S.S. California, command of U.S.S. Melville, command of the cruiser U.S.S. Cleveland, and command of the battleship U.S.S. Colorado. As commanding officer of the U.S.S. Cleveland, then operating in Central American waters, Wygant had the privilege of carrying United States President-Elect Herbert Hoover up the Rio Esmaraldas to Quito, for a meeting with the president of Ecuador. He also served as Chief of Staff to Vice-Admiral Walton R. Sexton, battleship divisions commander aboard the U.S.S. West Virginia. Shore-based assignments included multiple stints of service as a Naval Academy instructor and as a student and staff member of the Naval War College. Wygant also held appointment, 1929-1931, as the professor of Naval Science and Tactics for Harvard University’s Navy Reserve Officers Training Corps. After that assignment he was Chief of Staff of the Fifth Naval District, Norfolk, Virginia. Reaching the Navy’s mandatory retirement age, Wygant left active-duty effective June 30, 1936. He relocated to Los Angeles, California, and, between 1939 and 1940, was a member of the Los Angeles City Fire Commission.
In retirement, Wygant repeatedly warned of a re-militarized Germany. Recognizing the imminence of war, he requested a return to naval duty and shipboard command. Given the urgent need to expand the American fleet in the period just prior to United States entry into World War II, and the concomitand requirement to train thousands of new naval officers, Wygant did return to active duty. With a knowledge gained from both ship and shore experiences, and with his past assignments in naval instruction, Wygant accepted the post of commanding officer of the United States Naval Reserve Midshipmen’s School (Navy V-7) headquartered at Abbott Hall on the Chicago campus of Northwestern University. He simultaneously headed Navy V-12 training programs established at other Chicago-area locations. The Midshipmen’s School was Wygant’s primary responsibility, and his program trained, during its years of operations between 1940 and 1945, approximately 22,000 individuals, commissioning them as ensigns for service with the fleet or at Navy shore installations. With the Midshipmen’s School operating at necessarily accelerated pace, students learned the rudiments of naval operations and military protocol within a curriculum of a little more than three months’ duration. More traditionally trained veterans of naval service disparagingly referred to the newly commissioned ensigns of the Midshipmen’s School as “90-day wonders.” With the war winding down to its conclusion and the demobilization of military personnel, such training programs were no longer supported by the Navy. The Midshipmen’s School closed during the summer of 1945. After a lengthy career of honorable and successful service as a naval officer, recognized with numerous decorations including the Navy Cross, Wygant was detached from duty on August 1, 1945.
After his military service, Wygant became headmaster of the Elgin (Illinois) Academy, serving in that capacity from 1945 to 1948.
Wygant married Katharine Heffenger of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, the daughter of Arthur C. Heffenger and Fannie Pickering Heffenger, on October 19, 1907. The couple had two children: Barbara (born July 15, 1908) and Benyaurd B., Jr. (born June 20, 1910). The Wygants were active socially and in community affairs, holding memberships in the New York Yacht Club and in the Harvard Club of Los Angeles. Wygant was a national committeeman of the Boy Scouts of America. Wygant died November 6, 1962, at Los Angeles, California. Katharine Wygant died August 21, 1984. Both are interred at Arlington National Cemetery.
Found in 1 Collection or Record:
The papers and artifacts of Benyaurd B. Wygant fill 21 boxes and span the period 1898 through 2005, with most items dating from the period 1917-1945. The collection documents in great detail Wygant’s life and career as an officer of the United States Navy.