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Welfare check turns into road trip for Glendale officer, 94-year-old veteran

Sgt. Jeff Turney and Howard Benson (Sgt. Jeff Turney Photo)

PHOENIX — It started when 94-year-old Howard Benson’s son, who lived out of state, called the Glendale Police Department for a welfare check.

In the 911 dispatch call, you can hear his son say, “He’s loaded up a trailer and thinks he can drive himself to Florida. I’d like to have somebody talk to him if they could.”

A proud World War II veteran, Benson was determined to drive across the United States to get to his new assisted living facility in Florida.

That’s when retired Air Force member and Glendale Police Sgt. Jeff Turney was called.

Turney is active in helping members of the military, particularly veterans, and was thought to be the man fit to talk Benson out of his idea.

“I responded over there and started talking to Howard and figured out he was going no matter what anybody had said,” Turney told KTAR News 92.3 FM this week.

Benson had planned to leave the following day. When it seemed like all resources had been exhausted, Turney decided that with his next three days off, he would drive the veteran cross country.

Describing Benson’s reaction, Turney laughed and said, “He just looked at me with a big smile on his face and said, ‘You!’”

That’s when the two veterans took the open road.

“It was unbelievable,” Turney said. “I told him I wanted to hear about his life.”

“He basically started at 3 1/2 years old with his earliest memory sitting on his mother’s lap and he told me about his entire life for 94 years.”

Benson shared he was 16 when Pearl Harbor was attacked. He recalled hearing President Roosevelt on the radio. He even shared things from his childhood, like horse-drawn fire engines.

The two men shared nonstop conversation for four days.

Turney even attempted to teach Benson how to use Facebook Live so they could document their travels.

“We laughed a lot,” Turney said. “Hurricane Howard was a jokester.”

As their journey came to an end with 2,100 miles traveled over four days, Benson didn’t sleep once in the car, and he didn’t run out stories until they reached their destination.

Benson told Turney during the trip that he wanted to see America one last time.

When they arrived at the assisted living facility in Florida, the employees and residents welcomed them by waving flags and signs and singing patriotic songs.

It led to an emotional goodbye.

“We shared a lot going across the country,” Turney said. “We are lifelong friends now. He invited me to his 100th birthday party.”

Turney told KTAR News his biggest take away was what Benson said to him before they parted ways.

“Jeff, if you want to have a good life, treat everybody well, and start your conversations with a compliment,” he said.

Turney said he watched Benson do just that with everyone they met across the country.

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