By Ted George’s count, the George family has a combined 250 years of service to the U.S. government.
It all began in 1915 when the family patriarch, Bennie George, went to work at what was then known as the “Pacific Coast Torpedo Station” in Keyport, leaving his job as longshoreman at the Port Gamble Mill.
According to the writings of longtime Keyport employee Herb Hindle, Bennie rowed his dugout boat to Keyport and vowed — Hindle’s writing reflected the racial attitudes of the day — “to smoke the peace pipe and bury his tomahawk for all time” if they would let him come to work there.
“My father was a very intelligent man,” Ted George said. “He understood the prejudices of the time.”
Bennie George, who also served for 40 years as chairman of the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe, was promptly hired and issued badge number 17.
Ted George said Bennie was proud of his early “plank holder” status during his 32-year career as a pipefitter at Keyport.
30,000 miles rowing
His new job at Keyport was some distance from his home in Port Gamble and, in those days, such a commute would have been a major journey, according the account in “Torpedo Town, U.S.A.”
So, he and his wife, Martha — a descendent of Chief Seattle — moved to Suquamish where Bennie built a cabin with a tent on each side to house their growing family (Bennie and Martha had 10 children altogether: six boys, four girls).
Bennie’s new home was across the bay from Keyport near Suquamish; however, it was still a major commute by land, though not as far as the crow flies—or as the fish swims. So he chose to go by sea rather than by land.
For 27 years, Bennie traveled to work in his dugout canoe. Over those years, he estimated that he chocked-up more than 30,000 miles.
He rowed rain or shine, shortening the watery commute only during rough weather; on those occasions he would go to Lemolo, directly across the bay, and walk home from there.
Only once did the weather make his trip impossible and that was because the cold winter north wind caused ice to form on his oar lock, causing his oars to slip.
The Georges answer the call to arms
Bennie’s canoe commute came to an end after Dec. 7, 1941. Following Pearl Harbor, and fearful of spies and saboteurs, security at the torpedo testing station became so tight the guards wouldn’t let him land at the base dock.
In 1942, Martha sold the general store they owned and went to work “making sure the boys got ammunition,” according to a their daughter Corinne Rock in a 1999 article.
Three of the George sons—Cecil, Lyle and Bob—served in the Army during World War II. (Son Ron, too young at the time, joined the Navy after the war.)
And three of the daughters (Evelyn, Marjorie and Regina) worked for the government during the war also.
Speaking in a foreign tongue
Over the years, Bennie had become a trusted employee and, after the war started, the Station’s Commanding Officer asked him to be on the lookout for subversive acts on base. Bennie discreetly reported to the Captain every week. During one of those meetings, another officer, perhaps doubting Bennie’s qualifications, to ferret out German or russioan spies, asked, “Can you speak any foreign languages?”
Bennie, a Suquamish Tribal chieftain, looked at him and said deadpan: “Certainly. English.”
With the war over in Europe and the Pacific Theater winding down, Bennie retired after 32 years of government service. The May 4 1945 edition of the Station newspaper reported that Bennie was planning to catch up on everything he’d been wanting to do for the past 30 years. “I’m going fishing,” Bennie said.
Bennie George died in 1971. Martha passed away in 1987.
Today, when you wait for the bus at George’s Corner Park & Ride, between Suquamish and Kingston, you are standing on the site of the general store that Martha and Bennie operated up until 1942.