An Eastern North Carolina resident who enjoys summers along the coast has quite the background, serving under two presidents.

Retiree Pete Benton, a summer resident of Morehead City, served from 1986 to 1989 as the officer in charge, Ceremonial Flight, United States Air Force Presidential Honor Guard during the terms of presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

Reporting directly to the president, the Honor Guard participated annually in about 2,500 joint service historic ceremonial events to include the Bush inaugural parade, the July 1986 Statue of Liberty re-dedication, the Bicentennial of the Constitution in Philadelphia, the arrivals and departures of former Secretary of Defense Caspar Wineberger in the performance of his duties, and the arrival and departures of heads of state from other countries such as Mikhail Gorbachev, El Salvador President Jose Duarte, Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

“It was a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Benton said. “The Honor Guard is an elite, prestigious unit that only accepts one percent of applicants. I equate being a member of the Honor Guard as being a member of the (U.S.) Olympic team that won the gold medal for your country.”

Benton was responsible for ceremonial guards, training, morale, welfare, equipment, and special operations. Benton had a working relationship with presidents Reagan and Bush, and representatives Walter B. Jones and Tip O’Neill and Weinberger. Benton described Reagan as “one of the greatest presidents this country has ever had. He was a blessing from God.”

Benton was in charge of the ceremonial parades on Tuesdays at the White House, joint services full honor arrivals for presidents of foreign countries, kings and queens, heads of state, and prime ministers on the White House lawn.

Benton’s favorite Honor Guard duties were the Air Force Full Honor Wreath Laying at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery conducted for chiefs of staff and ministers of defense from foreign countries, and funerals at Arlington National Cemetery. Benton conducted about 500 funerals during his service with the Honor Guard, but his most memorable funeral was for Army Air Forces Lt. General Ira Eaker, Commander of 8th Air Force, during World War II. Serving in England, Eaker organized the United States bomber command.

“My greatest inspiration comes from John 15:13 in the Bible, ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends,’ ” Benton said. “I was extraordinarily proud to be there to honor the member who made the ultimate sacrifice and to show love and compassion to the family.”

Benton was born in New Bern and grew up in Havelock, a place that his wife Cynthia Wiley Benton says was like growing up in Mayberry. His father was a Marine military policeman in Korea; his mother was a telephone operator at Cherry Point.

Benton is a 1971 graduate of Havelock High School. He attended East Carolina University earning an undergraduate degree in political science and psychology in 1979; and a Masters of Public Administration in 1986.

Benton enlisted in the Air Force in 1983 and was stationed at Pope AFB as executive officer and chief of administration for the 82nd Airborne where he was in charge of loading transporters for the combat zone. He was serving as Chief of Protocol for the 317th Tactical Airlift Wing when he applied and was selected for the Honor Guard.

In late 1989, Benton returned to North Carolina to attend law school at Campbell but only stayed awhile before being called back to active duty in 1990.

While on active duty at Boling AFB, Benton met his wife, an Air Force Captain and dentist. The couple married in 1989 and came home in March 1991 when Cynthia Benton completed her residency and went into private practice while Pete Benton continued to serve and retire from the Air Force and as a civil servant.

Since Cynthia Benton retired in April, the couple live in Goldsboro in the winter with their five cats and two dogs and spend the spring and summer at their beach house at Morehead City.