Youth historian researches Walla Walla Boy Scout hero

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Following the Jan. 4, 2008, rapacious tree-eating windstorm here, Adam Gallinat discovered a special tombstone during a tree planting project in Mountain View Cemetery.

A Life Scout with Boy Scout Troop 305 in Walla Walla, Adam, other Troop and Rotary Club members were there as part of Rotary's urban reforestation program to replace trees the storm destroyed.

Adam wondered about the story behind the headstone, placed in memory of 12-year-old Bennie Shinbo. It notes that Bennie died a Boy Scout hero on Aug. 27, 1933.

Adam said during the 1964 Boy Scout Charters, district numbers were added to avoid confusion since many troops had the same number. Bennie's Walla Walla Troop 5 was in District 3 so it became Troop 305.

"So Bennie Shinbo was most likely a member of the same troop I am," Adam surmised via e-mail.

A Boy Scout Second Class with Troop 5 in Walla Walla, Bennie was born March 7, 1921, according to the headstone. Adam wanted more details, so the 14-year-old ninth grader and Troop 305 historian began digging.

Adam researched the newspaper archives at Whitman College's Penrose Library and gathered details about Bennie's heroic act from Walla Walla Daily Bulletin and Walla Walla Union articles, circa Aug. 28- Sept. 7, 1933.

He learned that Bennie drowned trying to save scoutmaster, Fred Small, 31, as Fred struggled against an undertow in the Columbia River at Thrasher's eddy, 3 miles from Wallula.

Newspaper articles report that Fred was trying to determine how far out it was safe for his Scouts, Bennie, Glenn Cunnington, Ronald Bastron and Paul Olson, who were there to go swimming.

Fred was caught in the river's strong current.

"Bennie Shinbo, one of the four Boy Scouts who had just been lined up and given a safety lecture and warned to stay in the safety of the eddy by Small, responded to his leader's cry for help. After getting out about 30 feet, he found the current too swift and wisely turned to swim back; however, upon hearing more desperate cries for help by Small, he braved the current again. This time it was too much and he also sank from sight."

The George Moultons and Fred's wife, Thelma Small, were also there.

Expert swimmers present at the time said the river at the point where Fred went under was too much for them. Descriptions of both scoutmaster and scout were sent to points on the Washington and Oregon sides of the river, as far west as Portland and Vancouver.

Bennie's body was found seven days later on Sept. 3 at Mottinger in Benton County, 27 miles from Kennewick and about 11 miles down the Columbia from where the drowning occurred.

Bennie's funeral was Sept. 5 at Pioneer Methodist Church with the Rev. Edward A. Wolfe officiating. Fellow members of Troop 5 were honorary pallbearers and older Boy Scouts and Sea Scouts were active pallbearers.

Bennie's survivors included his parents, Takisaku (Toki) and Yuso (Tomiko), and sister Maxine. The Shinbos owned Shinbo Bros. Store and the Imperial Cafe in Walla Walla.

Bennie, a Jefferson School student, was highly regarded by his instructors, the article noted.

Fred was a former president and one of the leading members of the Walla Walla Active Club. When the organization took over the sponsorship of the Jefferson School Boy Scout Troop, he assumed the scoutmastership and was credited with developing an unusually strong new troop. He was born April 25, 1902, in Portland. Survivors included his wife.

His body is not known to have been recovered based on the newspaper articles researched, Adam said.

As Troop historian Adam would very much like to locate copies of photos with Bennie in them for the Troop History scrapbook and to learn if the body of Scoutmaster Small was ever recovered. Adam is the son of Michael and Carol Gallinat of Walla Walla. He's not sure what he wants to do after high school but is interested in forensic science. His research on Bennie's case is a good start.

•••

College Place resident Brenden Koch is nearing completion in spring of a bachelor's in humanities, with a concentration in English and history at Washington State University. In his final U.S. history course this fall, he and other students reviewed a year's worth of their local newspapers to learn how the Great Depression affected residents between 1929-1941.

Brenden examined the Walla Walla Union. In about 40 hours of research, Brenden found that "1931 was a momentous year in Walla Walla: the infamous Mill Creek flood occurred in April, the First Congregational Church was dedicated and Washington Apartments opened, and the Chamber of Commerce continued to investigate the possibility of creating a cannery to enhance local agriculture."

He found news about local crimes, including a holdup, the theft of foodstuffs from a cabin up Mill Creek, and the discoveries of an illegal still and stash of spirits at a home on Craig Street.

"Prohibition, though hotly debated, was still national policy in 1931," he noted.

Intrigued by the latter incident, Brenden drove by the Craig Street house and tried to figure out where the still might have been located on the property 78 years ago.

One of Brenden's greatest personal interests is revealing Walla Walla's past to current residents.

He created a new "Random Acts of History" (RAH) campaign via of his Web site, WallaWallaHistory.com.

Through that program, he checks out vintage publications to uncover interesting tidbits about local homes, structures, and properties.

If any of the edifices are still standing, he will send that information to the current residents or owners, hoping they could gain a deeper appreciation of the history of their home, property or business.

"In this, I am somewhat motivated by the Golden Rule -- I know that if someone were to find information about my house from the 1930s, I definitely would appreciate them sending it to me."

Thus, he mailed a printout of the 1931 Craig Street article to the current residents of the house.

Continuing his 1931 research at Penrose Library on the Whitman College campus, Brenden found a story about another crime that occurred in Walla Walla that year.

On Friday, Nov. 13, at her sister's house on Olive Street, Pauline Kimball shot her one-time fiance, Ed Wirth, then turned the gun on herself. Wirth escaped across Olive and staggered through a plowed field, now full of houses, to a home on Alder Street, where he telephoned police.

Despite her chest wound, the 21-year-old Kimball made her way down Olive to its intersection with McKinley; at the home on the corner she called a taxi to transport her to St. Mary's Hospital, where Wirth also had been taken by ambulance, Brenden said. Kimball continued to weaken following surgery and died the following day. To the end she maintained that Wirth had shot her, which he, of course, denied. At the Nov. 24 inquest, the jury (and the evidence) agreed with Wirth, and Kimball's death was ruled a suicide.

Feeling this incident was an ideal matter for RAH, Brenden copied related articles and mailed them to the resident of the house where the shooting occurred, and the homes where Wirth and Kimball telephoned for emergency assistance.

"Several days later, my wife answered a call from a person who had lived where the shootings had taken place.

"The (person), 80-some years old, expressed gratitude at being able to learn this history of the home; in fact, (the person, then age 5) had a connection to those events in 1931. Apparently, (the person's) parents owned the home, and when the shooting occurred, (the person)also lived there.

"This is where Random Acts of History truly proves its merit: (the person)'s mother, (who, according to the Union articles was Pauline Kimball's sister,) had always refused to talk about what had happened at the home when her children were young. Seventy-eight years later, (the children) still did not know the truth -- that is, until I sent the newspaper clippings. A lifetime of questions had finally been answered."

"After my wife detailed her conversation with the (person), I felt a gratified chill pass through my body. My entire purpose in instituting Random Acts of History had been justified -- I had brought to light previously obscure local history that actually had meaning to someone on a personal level."

Etcetera appears in daily and Sunday editions. Annie Charnley Eveland can be reached at annieeveland@wwub.com or 526-8313.

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