Archive for Thursday, October 15, 2009

Who is Benny Lee Lohman?

October 15, 2009

This week I had an opportunity to interview Benedict Lee Lohman at his home in Fairway. He was born in Lansing in 1918 and was named Benedict because his father, Lee, was working at the G. R. Benedict Lumber Company as a yard and delivery man. After Mr. Benedict died, Lee became foreman and manager for the next 45 years.

Benny Lee, as we knew him, graduated from Lansing High School in 1936 which according to my arithmetic makes him 91 and sharp as a tack. He has memories of Lansing and told stories and mentioned people that I barely knew or just remembered the names.

He was in the 4-H club and told about activities at the bandstand that was once on prison property. Also after showing movies in the state prison, they would bring the movies for the townspeople to watch at the old high school. That was before my time of remembering. Also, he was a "soda jerk" at Mr. Foster's Drug Store. He also remembers the pool hall and Levi Day and the Thomas Cafe. The list goes on and on.

He went to K-State for nearly two years then decided it was not for him and he "hit the road" traveling all over the country on the rails.

This was a survival experience that actually helped save his life in years to come when he was a POW. He joined the US Marine Corps in Kansas City, MO in January of 1940. After boot camp in San Diego, he sailed to Shanghai, China, with the 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine regiment. He was there for 20 months.

Originally the Marines had been in Shanghai since 1927 to protect American citizens and property there in the International Settlement. There were over a half million Japanese surrounding Shanghai and due to the tension between China and Japan and the oil embargo imposed by President Roosevelt. the Marines sailed to defend the island of Corregidor nine days before Pearl Harbor.

On April 9, 1942, the small island of Bataan surrendered and about a month later on May 6, 1942, Corregidor also was forced to surrender and that is when Ben and his unit were captured and made prisoners of war.

As a POW, Ben was shipped to Moji, Japan, where he learned to be a riveter in the ship yards. Because he was very good at that, they treated him better than a lot of the other prisoners. And he said "I could still do riveting today" with a laugh. Then he was sent to the copper mines in Japan and had only rice to eat three times a day.

When the war was over the Japanese boss announced, "now we are friends," There were groups of Americans, Australians, and Englishmen in three camps. They all had to find their way back to the ships to come home. He weighed 98 pounds.

He came back to Lansing after being in a hospital at the Great Lakes Naval Station for some time. In those days communications were bad and his family did not know for months whether he was dead or alive.

Happy to be home, he married and had a beautiful family. Now he is happily retired.

I could spend hours listening to him say "do you remember this person, or that incident, that took place in Lansing many years ago"? He is a walking history book.


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