by Marly Fausz
Lt. Col. Jon Hatfield will serve as the guest speaker at the Bensley Veterans Association’s 17th annual Veterans Day Ceremony on Saturday, November 16. The event will begin at 11a.m. at Bensley Park, 2900 Drewry’s Bluff Rd., Richmond.
The public is invited to enjoy this ceremony to honor our veterans while the Fort Lee Army band performs patriotic and service songs along with the Thomas Dale High School (TDHS) choral group. Junior ROTC cadets from TDHS will raise flags to honor each branch of the military.
Each year the ceremony is held at the Bensley Park monument, a memorial for four Bensley community soldiers who served in WWII but did not return. Billy Stubbs, founder of the Bensley Veterans Association, helped to raise the monument to honor his high school friends and classmates.
The four young Bensley veterans will forever be remembered for their service: Billy Dunkleberger Jr. (May 30, 1920-Feb. 19, 1944) died at 23 years old during a training exercise off the coast of Melbourne, Fla.; Joe Schaffer (Jan. 25, 1924-Mar. 8, 1945) died at 21 years old while serving in the Army Infantry on tour in the Philippines; Whitaker Stephens (Dec. 6, 1924-Mar. 18, 1945) was flying a B17 bomber returning from his forth combat mission when his plane collided with another over the English Channel and died at only 20 years old; and R. Bruce Graham (July 2,1923-Mar. 31, 1945) was a 22-year-old Navy fighter pilot who’s plane exploded when a disposable high octane gasoline tank was caught in the propeller after ejection.
“He was my best friend – we would double date and played football together at Chester High School and Benedictine,” Stubbs recalls of his late friend Bruce Graham.
For years Stubbs felt a longing to honor his friends and fellow members of the Bensley community. After speaking with Jack McHale, Vietnam veteran and county supervisor at the time, Stubbs was granted a prominent spot in Bensley Park to display the memorial he designed. It was completed early May 1996 and was unveiled during the Memorial Day Dedication Service on May 27, 1996. The ceremony was moved to Veterans Day weekend the following year.
Managing the ceremony year after year, the event has become Stubbs’ favorite. “We’ve always had wonderful guest speakers,” says Stubbs.
In years past, speakers have included the former president of the Marine Corp University, Major General Donald Gardner; Paul Galanti, who was a prisoner of war of the North Vietnamese for nearly seven years; and Jan Scruggs, founder and president of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund.
With 24 years military experience prior to retirement, Lt. Col. Jon Hatfield served with the U.S. Army in Alaska, Germany and Korea and then went on to become a Lieutenant Colonel with the Army Reserves.
Since 1997 Col. Hatfield has enjoyed his work as the first employee and executive director at the Virginia War Memorial. He has played a key role in the renovations and educational programs that have been developed over the past 15 years.
See more Veterans Day events under "What's Up".