Federal Way veteran turns 100 on centennial of WWI ending

Man recalls life, Air Force pilot experience

Ben Benson remembers the first time he watched a T.V. program, and he doesn’t understand the deal about smartphones.

“Now what’s all this about,” he asked as he pointed to a smartphone.

At 100 years old Nov. 9 — which coincides with the 100-year anniversary of the ending of WWI — Benson is still smiling, and he loves talking about everything he’s seen in his life.

His youngest daughter, Beverly Smith, and him spoke about the good days when they used to go fishing and camping together.

“Those trips are my favorite memories,” Smith said.

Before taking camping trips with his favorite fishing buddy, the former Auburn resident who now lives at Village Green in Federal Way, spoke about Nov. 9, 1918 in South Dakota.

Just three days before Benson was born, his father passed away from the Spanish influenza, the same fever that took his mother the day after she had him. Three days after his birth, Benson said he was adopted by a kind couple — the county sherriff and his wife.

Benson also had three older sisters, who he said were taken in by a politician in the area, but only as a ploy to help him win re-election.

Benson was still very close to his older sister despite living with different guardians, but they have since passed away.

Benson’s had a long, happy life, and while it may be getting harder for him to remember certain things, there are others he’ll never forget.

He witnessed firsthand the Challenger space shuttle explosion in 1986, and his daughter, Beverly Smith, said she has a series of photographs he took of the event.

Benson was an avid photographer when he was younger, and spent a lot of time traveling with his family.

He worked in training command in the Air Force in the mid-1940s, so while he never saw any combat, he trained other recruits who served during World War II.

Before he was a pilot in the Air Force, Benson flew small commercial planes at Compton Airport in California.

“I wanted to be a fighter pilot,” said Benson, who plans to participate in the city of Auburn’s Veterans Day Parade on Nov. 10 in full uniform.

He left the military after the war ended, bringing his total years in the service at two.

But Benson wasn’t finished yet.

After the service, he worked for about a year-and-a-half at Boeing in Seattle helping construct B17s and B29s, later moving to Roar Aircraft, finishing his career with planes after 10 years.

And further still, he opened Auburn’s first laundromat, which served the community for 10 to 15 years.

Now Auburn and the surrounding areas are much larger and more developed, and Benson loved talking with Beverly about how things were when he first moved there.

“A lot can change in 100 years,” Beverly said.

One of his favorite memories was going to baseball games with his father.

Benson said that when people would buy food or drinks from vendors, sometimes their coins would fall through the bleachers.

“After the game, we would go under the bleachers and pick up the dropped quarters,” he chuckled. “Sometimes we’d come away with a few dollars.”

Benson laughed with his daughter, thinking back on those happy times with the man who adopted him.

And of course, Benson won’t forget his beautiful wife Nila, who sadly passed away seven years ago.

“She had a really good voice,” Beverly said.

She said they met at a YMCA, and her singing caught Benson’s attention. They were married for 73 years.

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