Benson was stationed in St. Ignace for a decade and is now an operations officer in Buffalo, N.Y. He said the rescues involving children stick with him the most — simply because he has three young daughters of his own, along with his wife, Kristy.
“I've seen a lot,” said the St. Louis, Mich., native. “When you come across a sailboat that's capsized and a family of four is clinging onto the side, and you see the looks of despair on their faces, there's something very rewarding about it. Especially when it involves saving a child's life, because they still have a legacy of their own to create.”
Encouraged by friends and family to keep journals of his adventures on the Great Lakes and elsewhere, Benson has taken it a big step further.
Benson, 30, has created a series of 20 children's books inspired by his service in the Coast Guard. But instead of featuring himself in the books — which average 30 to 40 pages — the main character is a black Labrador retriever named Onyx.
“Onyx was the Coast Guard's morale dog up in St. Ignace,” Benson explained. “All the crew loved that dog.”
The first book in the series, “The Adventure of Onyx and The Guardians of the Straights,” was released Wednesday. Benson will be selling copies hot off the press during Grand Haven’s Coast Guard Festival beginning today through Aug. 5 from a booth at Escanaba Park, as well as at the Coast Guard Craft Fair in Grand Haven's Central Park.
Benson’s stay in Grand Haven will be much more than a sales trip, however. When he informed the Coast Guard Festival Committee in late last year about his project and his desire to set up a booth at the festival, officials were intrigued and told Benson they’d get in touch with him.
“We thought it was great what he’s doing and we wanted to invite him as an official guest,” said Mike Smith, the festival's executive director. “He has a particular talent that he wants to share with the world, which is highlighting what the Coast Guard is all about.”
Benson has been designated as a VIP distinguished guest at this year's festival. He will be honored during the "Salute to Heroes" ceremony and show at Waterfront Stadium at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 4.
Benson said a dollar from every book sold during the week would be donated to the Coast Guard Foundation, which aids Coasties and their families in need. He also wants to donate another dollar from each book sold to the festival.
The book is available for pre-order at adventuresofonyx.com for $13.99. A stuffed animal version of Onyx, complete with a bright orange life preserver, is also offered for $9.99.
To read more of this story, see today’s print or e-edition of the Grand Haven Tribune.