Benson died Saturday at a military hospital in Texas. He'd been there since June, when the Humvee he was riding in was hit by a roadside bomb in Iraq. He lost an arm and a leg in the attack, and suffered other major injuries as well.
Benson is a native of North Branch, where he graduated from North Branch Area High School. In school, Benson played football and soccer. One of his closest friends, Cory Mueller, met him in grade school. Mueller says he always knew Benson was bound for the Marines.
"He'd been talking about the military since I met him in the third grade. Every time a plane flew over he would be able to tell me what kind of military plane it was. Because his dad was in the Air National Guard, he kind of wanted to make his dad proud," says Mueller.
He was very, very proud of what he did. And I'll tell you what, I was very proud of him, too.Becky Leuer, former teacher
Benson made others proud too. One of his former teachers from North Branch, Becky Leuer, recalls a visit from Benson last spring. The infantry rifleman stopped by the school in full military dress.
"He was very, very proud to be in his uniform, and very proud that he was being very successful in what he did. And he wanted all of us to know that," says Leuer. "He looked great, he looked good. He was confident. He was very, very proud of what he did. And I'll tell you what, I was very proud of him, too."
That wasn't the only visit Benson made to his old school. Another former teacher, Deb Esmay, recalls Benson dropping by the school a few years ago -- surprising her on her 50th birthday.
"I told him how handsome he was, and what a nice young man that he turned out to be, and how proud I was of him; but to be safe and take care of himself and I'd pray for him. And that was the last time I'd seen him," says Esmay.
Benson joined the Marines in 2003, just after high school and just as the war in Iraq was getting underway. Another close friend, Peter Johnson, says he was concerned about Benson's safety and asked him why he joined the military.
"He said, 'I'm not doing it for me, I'm doing it for you and Cory. I'm doing it for my parents, my nieces and nephews, all of our friends. I'm doing it because maybe someday, if I'm in the Marines, some other kid won't have to.' And that's just who he was, he was a very selfless person," says Johnson.
Benson served two tours of duty in Iraq. He received a Purple Heart because of injuries in each tour.
Last July, Johnson went to visit Benson in the Texas military hospital where he was being treated for the severe injuries he suffered in the bomb attack. During the visit, Johnson says a Marine commandant came to present Benson with his second Purple Heart.
"The whole time I was there, Jon, when he opened his eyes, it looked like he was squinting, he could barely get them open. When the commandant was there I'd never seen his eyes so wide open in my life," recalls Johnson. "He tried so hard to let the commandant know that he was in there and he was fighting, he was going to be OK."
Cpl. Johnathan Benson is survived by his parents and five siblings. He'll be buried in Fort Snelling National Cemetery.