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Interview with Aldean Benge

Benge, Aldean
Benge, Tanya
Date of Interview: 
Overcoming Obstacles; Childhood Adventures; Then and Now
Aldean Benge talks about growing up, going to school, and being in the military.
North Carolina; South Carolina; Maryland; Vietnam, 1946-1998
Charlotte Narrative and Conversation Collection
Collection Description: 
Tanya Benge interviewed Charlotteans to collect stories for a class project at UNC Charlotte.
Interview Audio: 
TB(Tanya Benge): Interview with Mr. Aldean Benge. Aldean, please tell us a little about yourself.
AB(Aldean Benge): OK. Thank you, Tanya. Tanya, I was born October 12, 1946, the ninth child of Leff and Cora Benge, in the town of Roaring River. Roaring River is midway between North Wilkesboro and Elkin in the county of Wilkes in the state of North Carolina. It's, I had, uh, or have seven brothers and four sisters. Two of the girls died as infants when they were about two weeks old. It's, I was born at home. [Pause] I was born at home, the-. [Long pause] [Laugh] One of the few of the family that was actually born at home. And I lived in a four room house without a bathroom for several years. Uh, later on we became more prosperous and, uh, added on the house, added on another bedroom, a kitchen, and a bathroom. I started to elementary school when I was six years old. I went to Austin Elementary School, which was a four-room school house. It had four grades, four rooms, uh, eight grades and, uh, just four teachers. So each teacher taught two classes. Is-. [Pause] Early on, I really hated going to school, really despised it. Uh, I would have stayed home if I could have, but my parents insisted that I attend school and get an education. And, if I'd actually stayed at home, they would have actually probably belted me and, uh, um, made me go to school. Is, my parents are, were farmers. The main crop was tobacco. In, so, in the summertime, uh, everyday, I got to work in the fields and tobacco and corn and whatever work, you know, my dad could think of. Seems like he could always think of a job to do. During the school year, is, I had to get up in the morning at, uh, uh, five or six o'clock and go milk the cows and, uh, do some other chores before I actually got ready to go to school. Uh, after school, I was expected to also do additional chores and work. And usually it was [clears throat] six o'clock or later before I got around to actually doing homework. And if I stayed up, uh, later than eight-thirty or nine o'clock at night, my dad, uh, would actually, uh, fuss at me and tell me it was time I was to, uh, got in bed. After a while, though, I really started enjoying school and, uh, or liking it a lot more and, uh, after elementary school I attended a high school that was fairly modern. And they, uh, offered a lot of, uh, different opportunities in coursework for actually learning and studying, and so in high school I developed an intense interest in, uh, uh, math and science and really enjoyed those subjects. In the, uh, summertime, it really wasn't all work. Is, telling you one little story, is, in June of each year, when cherries were ripe, that there was a neighbor that, uh, was familiar with some old homeplaces back in the mountains. And, uh, each year when the cherries were ripe, he would go back in the mountains and I was always eager and ready to go. And, uh, didn't have to be invited, I would invite myself. We went back in the mountains one June and, uh, was walking back along the roads through the mountains, and his son tapped me on the, the arm and pointed and I was standing right next to a rattlesnake. And you better believe I was scared for a little while. Thank goodness it didn't bite me, but we did kill the snake. And, uh, hauled it back down out of the mountains on the back of the truck. And let me tell you, even though it was dead, I kept looking around. I was riding on the back of the truck and I kept looking around at the snake to make sure it wasn't coming after me. Anyway, after, uh, finishing high school, is, I was determined to go to college, and from high school, I worked in a textile mill during the summers and started college. In the textile mill, I worked for three summers and my job was just tying knots. I tied knots, uh, on the evening shift for eight hours a day. And, uh, that, along with farm work, made me determined that I was going to finish school and, uh, find an easier job to do. And, uh, initially, I went to a small college up near, uh, Asheville. It's, the name of the college is Warren Wilson College, and it's located in Swannanoa. It was a very nice school. It was small, and the people were very friendly, and I enjoyed going there. [Clears throat] But after a year and a half, I realized that I was really in the wrong, wrong place to pursue a, uh, career in engineering, and I transferred to NC State University and went to NC State University for two and a half years, studying electrical engineering. Uh, [clears throat] after, uh, getting my BS degree, I continued on and, uh, obtained a Master's Degree. I was actually in the Ph.D. program and was going to get a Ph.D. degree in electrical engineering, however, is, Uncle Sam had, uh, a different thing in mind. This was during the Vietnam War, and they did away with the deferments for people, for people that were in graduate school, deferments were just maintained for those in undergraduate school. So, I was drafted and entered the Army and had basic training at Fort Jackson in South Carolina. At the end of basic, I found out that my, um, job was going to be actually infantry, which, uh, really upset me because I knew if I ended up in the Infantry, I would end up in the trenches in Vietnam. And fortunately, that, uh, military occupational status was changed from, uh, infantry to engineering, and I was sent to, uh, Edgewood Arsenal in, uh, up near Baltimore, Maryland. There, I just did routine engineering work up until I was released from service. And, thank goodness I didn't have to go to Vietnam. It's interesting, that prior to being drafted I was, uh, fairly supportive of our government and, uh, the, what was going on over in Vietnam, but when I got the greetings letter, you better believe my opinion changed real fast [laughs] and I certainly didn't want to go! I was scared of dying like anyone else for a cause that, uh, really, I, uh, I didn't identify with. After getting out of the service, I went to work for Duke Energy Company, or actually, Duke Power, now Duke Energy, and I've worked there for the past, uh, 26 years. And, in this story, of course, I've left out a good bit. Is, uh, actually, uh, about the time I was, uh, drafted into the service, I met my wife, Virginia, and we were married while I was in the military. And after, uh, about, uh, five or six years, uh, uh, we ended up with a little red-headed daughter, uh, named Tanya. Now this daughter is coming back and asking me questions. And, uh, that's nice to know she's grown and, uh, mature and, uh, learning to, uh, do things and, uh, take care of herself and have great plans for the future. Thank you.