Veterans ceremony welcomes influential veterans, speakers

This year’s Bensley’s Veterans Day Ceremony will be held on Saturday, November 12, at 11 a.m. The event will feature guest speaker Jan Scruggs, founder and president of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund. Also addressing the event is William Farmer, graduate of John Marshall High School, veteran of the Pacific campaign in World War II, and former president of the Navy League.

The event is being organized by Billy Stubbs, a Marine Corps veteran, and organizer of the Bensley Veterans Association. Stubbs will be introduced by John Cogbill III, U.S. Military Academy Graduate and partner at McGuireWoods LLP. Music will be provided by the Ft. Lee Army Band. The Thomas Dale High School Junior ROTC will assist in the presentation of the colors and the armed services flag raising ceremony. The ceremony will be followed by a luncheon at the Bensley Community Center.

Jan C. Scruggs is the founder and president of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund which was responsible for building the iconic memorial wall in Washington, D.C., which is inscribed with the names of 58,175 men and women who died in Vietnam. He is currently a motivational speaker who is seeking to raise $100 million for a new educational center next to The Wall.

In 1979, Scruggs conceived the idea of building the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., as a tribute to all who served during the longest war in American history.

Today, it is the most visited memorial in Washington. Scruggs was a wounded and decorated veteran of the Vietnam War, having served in the 199th Light Infantry Brigade of the U.S. Army. He felt a memorial would serve as a healing device for a different kind of wound-that inflicted on our national psyche by the long and controversial Asian war.

Scruggs launched the effort with $2,800 of his own money and gradually gained the support of other Vietnam veterans in persuading Congress to provide a prominent location on federal government property somewhere in Washington, D.C. After a difficult struggle, Congress responded, and the site chosen was on the National Mall near the Lincoln Memorial.

As president of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund Inc. (VVMF), the nonprofit organization set up to build and maintain the Memorial, Scruggs headed up the effort that raised $8.4 million and saw the Memorial completed in just two years. It was dedicated on Nov. 13 1982, during a week-long national salute to Vietnam veterans in the nation’s capital. Scruggs’ story of building the Memorial, To Heal A Nation, co-written with Joel L. Swerdlow, was made into an NBC-TV Movie of the Week in 1988. Actor Eric Roberts played the role of Scruggs.

Scruggs is a member of the Selective Service Appeals Board, a board member of the National Veterans Legal Services Project and special assistant to the chairman of the Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. In 1993, he was named one of the Ten Outstanding Young Americans by the U.S. Jaycees. Scruggs is a native of Washington, D.C, and grew up in Bowie, Md. He received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from American University in Washington, D.C., and his law degree from the University of Maryland, Baltimore.

Scruggs continues to lead VVMF as it enters a new phase in its mission to remember those who sacrificed in Vietnam: building the Education Center at The Wall. The Education Center will show the photos and tell the stories of those who made the ultimate sacrifice during the Vietnam War, as well as celebrate the values embodied by American service members in all of our nation’s wars.  According to Scruggs:  “A part of the mission for the Education Center will be to put Vietnam in context with other wars—and so the casualties of other wars are part of the story. If you ask 20 people on the street what war saw the greatest American casualties, most will say World War II, but in fact the Civil War remains cumulatively larger than all our other wars combined.”

The VVMF continues as The Wall’s caretaker, but also runs a life-saving humanitarian program in Vietnam’s Quang Tri province. Next up is an ambitious effort to build an underground education center next to The Wall, which will also exhibit some of the more than 100,000 items that have been left at the memorial.

The honoring of veterans in Bensley was begun by Billy Stubbs in 1996 with the dedication of a monument at the park in memory of four young men from the community who were killed in WW II—two Navy fighter pilots, Ensign Billy Dunlelberger and Lt. Bruce Graham; PFC Joe Schaffer, Army infantry; and Sgt. White Stephens, bombardier on a B-17.

As Stubbs explains, “Bruce Graham was my best friend in high school. I had just completed boot camp at Parris Island and Bruce had just completed flight school. He invited me to take a ride in a piper cub. He wanted to show off his flying prowess. A Piper Cub is not built for acrobatics, but Bruce put that plane through some acrobatics that scared me. I am surprised the wing didn’t break off. I was glad to get back on the ground. We both left Richmond for advanced training. Bruce was assigned to the USS Hancock, a member of Carrier Task Force 38 and 58.  I was assigned along with 59 other Marines to the USS San Jacinto, an aircraft carrier and a member of Carrier Task Force 38 and 58.”

One of the pilots stationed on the San Jacinto was George Herbert Walker Bush. Stubbs’ Marine detachment had many duties aboard the ship. “Our primary duty,” Stubbs recalls, “was manning anti-aircraft guns during combat. I was a 20 mm gunner. The ship’s gunners, sailors and marines were credited with shooting down 10 enemy aircraft, 7 kamikazis and 3 twin engine torpedo bombers. For this the ship received the Presidential Unit Citation with a star. We served 17 straight months in a forward combat area.”

For additional details about the Veterans ceremony, please contact Billy Stubbs at wts@verizon.net or (804) 275-6626.

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