Hitler’s army invaded Poland. Nearly three years before, I was born in Sanish, ND, ten minutes after midnight on my doctor’s birthday. The year I was born had been the second coldest winter and hottest summer recorded in the United States up to that time. The worst winter I do remember was 1948-49 when Van Hook, ND, where we lived, was snowed in for a month during the time of Operation Haylift.

Mother told me we were in Kelso, WA, when Pearl Harbor happened. I do remember watching the Army convoys traveling on Highway 99 through Kalama, WA. We were in Los Angeles, CA, to experience air raid drills, then Alexandria, MN, when WWII ended. My father was only a few days over thirty-two when died the month before I was ten in 1946.

High school spring semester of 1953 ended and Korea was still a hot war. One of our former teachers was there, so several of us sixteen-year-olds thought it would be a good idea to join up. The local recruiter told us to get summer jobs and come back in two years. I joined the Cold War in 1955. Young Hungarians were instrumental in starting the revolution against Russia while I was in Army Security Agency training at the Pentagon. One of those young Hungarians would become the father of my daughter-in-law.

The Agency listened to signals from Sputnik the month I turned twenty-one. I’m sure the SPCA wasn’t happy when the Soviets launched the dog Laika into orbit that November. I trained on newly developed specialized equipment to track rocket launches and its value was proven when Russia launched the world’s first long range first ICBM in 1957.

I was permanently smitten at night school the fall of 1958; Shirley and I were married the spring of 1959 at the Presidio of Monterey. Our first son was born in California, and our second at Walter Reed while I was training at the Pentagon. Shirley and the boys joined me in Frankfurt, Germany, the September after the Berlin borders were closed, and construction on the infamous Berlin Wall was started. Our daughter was born in Frankfurt am Main. She was a year old, and we were at the post theater watching The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance when JFK was assassinated. I truncated my military career the next July.

After a nasty winter and spring flooding in Minnesota, with little chance for advancement in my job, I accepted a civilian job with the ASA. I left the government job a year later for higher pay in retail management.

George Lincoln Rockwell, leader of the American Nazi Party, was killed in Arlington, VA, in August of 1967. The man accused and later convicted of killing Rockwell, John Patsalos, was known to me as John Patler. I had hired him about a month before the incident as a part-time clerk at the drug store where I was an assistant manager.

We were living in Manassas, VA, just outside Washington, DC, during the 1968 riots which began after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Many employees of the retail drug store where I was an assistant manager and the store where I was a manager were significantly impacted by the riots.

To start another career change, I became a thirty-three-year-old freshman at Central Washington University the fall of 1969. Campus unrest wasn’t as intense at Central as on other campuses, but all of the elements of the protests across the country were there at some level.  Dan (DB) Cooper hijacked a commercial airliner. I was interviewed by an FBI Agent for an incident of my own while the hijacker’s demands were being processed. (See “Case Closed” on this blog.) The anti-war, anti-establishment, you-name-it rights movements were subtler, but still present when I started my first teaching assignment in 1974. At this writing, I’ve been on summer break from public education for three years.

We raised our three children, welcomed grandchild one through seven, Mt. St. Helens blew her top, the Berlin wall came down, etc. before September 11, 2001. I took a friend to the airport that morning. I watched the images on TV for only a short time before he called me to pick him up because the airport was closed. Mother was less than a month short of eighty-seven when she died in 2003.

Many events have impacted my thoughts and feelings during these eighty years, and I truly believe it was God’s plan to put Shirley in the seat behind me at Seattle’s Edison Tech. Because of His plan, my years have certainly been far more blessed than not.


I had two great lessons for teaching but the greatest came to me as a ‘gotcha’. Like all teachers, I had extensive course work in teaching methods. I took in-service classes and advanced courses to keep current in the latest techniques and processes.

I had excellent high school teachers; well, all but the one who kicked me out of class. She was probably a good teacher but her standards were from a generation or so before mine. I broke one of her classroom standards; but I didn’t know it was a standard. It was a never explained expectation. Sort of like the ‘you understood’ when she said, “Go to the principal’s office!”

OK, there was another teacher I really didn’t like. However, in retrospect, she taught me a great lesson.

I’ll give up my generation to reveal theirs. I was graduated from high school in 1955. My graduation should have been 1954 but that’s another story and has nothing to do with teachers.

My great lesson came when I was a high school freshman but I didn’t apply it until I became a teacher 25 years later.

I was at least one level below poor in spelling. Science report grades we were lowered for spelling errors so about mid-semester I decided to improve my spelling grades, thus my science grades. I worked very hard and memorized the twenty-five words for that week in English class.

The day of the weekly test, a Thursday as I remember, we listened to the teacher recite the words and wrote them on a special spelling pad. I knew we would pass our papers forward or backward to another student for correction so to ensure the corrector could read my words I did them in the forbidden printing. Teacher spelled each word, we checked and the papers were passed back. Teacher read our names and we responded with our score.

Each of the others with whom I had studied scored well and I announced the first 100% on a spelling test I could remember. She asked me to stand. In my naiveté, I expected her to congratulate me. Instead she said, “I don’t know how you did it Benson but I’m sure you must have cheated. Be here after school for a retake!”

After school, I tried to explain that I had studied with several others who scored high or 100%. She didn’t accept my explanation. She read the words in a different order and I printed. She chided me for not using cursive on the original and the retake. I skipped school that Friday and got my paper back on Monday. I scored 25 of 25 again but she had marked it, “74% – maximum score on retake!” In those days, 74 was a “D” grade.

I should have studied hard and proved her wrong on the next test; however, I speculated the same treatment. I skipped her class several times that semester and never put in the same effort for a spelling test even with another teacher the next semester. It was a great lesson; when I became a teacher, I vowed to never humiliate a student.

What I consider my greatest lesson came to me when I was a first year shop teacher.

A freshman student who could not be held after school had been absent for several required quizzes so I assigned a five-page report on a technology topic of his choice.

He asked, “What kind of paper?”

I told him, “Lined notebook paper, one side only, one space between writing, standard English class heading.”

“Is spiral notebook paper OK?”

I told him that would be fine as long as he trimmed off the rough edges after removing them from his notebook.

The next morning, as I was taking role, he handed me his report. His name and report title were in the standard format and the rough edges from being torn out of the spiral binding were neatly trimmed.

The report was a full five pages from a 3 x 5-inch spiral notebook. I couldn’t say a thing – he knew I didn’t specify the size of the paper. I was tested and my prior great lesson came into play. He scored a gotcha and there were no repercussions.

I’m sure the student whose name I don’t remember remembers the gotcha as well as I do. Acceptance of well-timed and appropriate humor became a standard part of my teaching.

Message Image

Remember Marshall McLuhan’s The Medium Is the Massage? Many who became educators in the 1960s might.

I wondered about what I would be reading when it was assigned in one of my college educational media classes. I and perhaps others thought, “What does massage have to do with educational media?” The title was supposed to have read “The Medium is the Message” What happened is explained at the McLuhan site.

My classmates and I had no choice; the reading was assigned and grade impacting quizzes would be given. How many of us would have glanced at the title and picked it off the shelf had it not been part of our professor’s mandatory reading list?
If asked a contextual question today, I’d probably give only a random guess in response.
However, I think about it when someone comments on dress, medium or other presentation issues. Things like, he should be in a suit – how can he preach dressed so casually or he went to Sturgis on a Harley – how can he be trusted to advise on our investments.

I know a hiring manager who would only give a prospective engineer a minute if the job seeker showed up in casual dress. A job seeker I know never got an interview from a paper resume. When the seeker started using the internet to submit personal and training data the seeker’s qualifications were noticed. Same data – different medium – different message (qualifications) perceived.

Unfortunately, some never get past the title or artwork on the cover of an author’s work. And sometimes similar titles get confused, for example: Girl from the Train and Girl on the Train. One of the title characters is not a girl by common definition. However, the ‘on’ book got better marketing than the ‘from’. In fact, when I was telling about my reading ‘from the train’ I got the comment from several, “You mean on the train, don’t you?”

So now I know the marketing program for The Medium Is the Massage was far more important than the title to its sales and influence of its content.

Dry Spell

The PNW has been in a dry spell most of the summer, but that’s not unusual.
I’ve had a writing dry spell too.
Or have I?
There has been little progress on what I’ve set as my primary project – the story of two men who suffered retrograde amnesia from separate Vietnam experiences.

I also set a goal of tuning up and adding to my 2012 published novel An Odyssey of Illusions. Many readers said it needed a sequel. I thought that too but again it was voice. I found the voice; the boy Odyssey simply transitions to his teen years and the story continues. That work is nearly ready for an outside review.

Other writers in a group to which I belong encouraged me to submit a short piece they reviewed for me. I took their encouragement, made a few changes to meet publisher requirements and submitted it. I’ve received payment for first rights. I was also encouraged to submit another of my short stories; the publisher’s staff notified me that it was sent to the next level for a second reading. I did some minor revisions to another short story and submitted it – no word back on that.

Some time ago, with new found voice, I opened the Vietnam amnesia story to do some serious work; nothing was happening. I did the same for several started short stories. The new idea part of my brain didn’t seem to be working either. I stumbled on something I had started in the 1990s (and had thought it was nearly finished). Renewed interest was kindled. That flame was reduced to an ember without enough fuel to continue within a few days. Again, the problem appeared to be voice.

I read three nonfiction books (see my most previous post). I did some HTML processing on what will be a former web site, and learned how to use some aps on my new i-phone. My work space got a complete cleaning and rearrangement. Yesterday, I applied a new format to this site, added a contact page and posted a bio page.

Now I need to mow the yard before the day gets too hot.

Just Read

Bill Lascher’s Eve of a Hundred Midnights is far – far more than the love story of war correspondents Melville and Annalee Jacoby during the first year of WWII. It was a one sitting read but Lascher’s intricately researched history makes it worthy of a second read to sort and reabsorb the details. Mel Jacoby had a love and passion writing and reporting how things really were in China just before and during the Japanese occupation.

Anna was already very successful in her own right but took on Mel’s passion and joined him in China. They carried out their reporting and were married just a week before having to escape from the Japanese invasion of the Philippines.

Many of the world leaders and influential people in the lives of Mel and Anna were familiar to me from having recently read James Bradley’s China Mirage. None of those powerful people could have changed the life outcomes for Mel and Anna.

To expand my understanding of the time and place I believe my next book will be Thunder out of China by Theodore H. White and Anna Jacoby. Lascher’s Eve of a Hundred Midnights gives me the feeling of knowing Anne Jacoby and her ability to tell it how it was.

I just finished Thunder out of China by Theodore H. White and Anna Jacoby. The cost of the book was more than I wanted to pay so I got an inter-library loan.
Bellingham (WA) Public Library sent a first edition from its reserved stacks to Ft. Vancouver (WA) Regional Library for me.

I was right in guessing the ability of Jacoby and White to tell it like it is (was). The 1946 published book also confirmed the accuracy of Lascher’s and Bradley’s research.
Any student of China and the WWII Far East history should read all three.