Military rites provided to Benld brothers
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Friday morning, about 50 people gathered in the Russian Orthodox section of Benld City Cemetery to honor the sacrifices a pair of Benld brothers made in service to their country during World War II.
Until recently, Mike and John Betza were only acknowledged with inscriptions and photos on the tombstone of their parents, Eva and Alex Betza. Since the brothers enlisted (John in the U.S. Army and then the U.S. Navy, and Mike in the Merchant Marines) under the last name “Basel,” there was confusion over why there were no records for the Betza brothers. Both brothers were lost at sea and were never given a proper military burial.
In an effort to get grave markers honoring the service of John and Mike Betza, members of the Benld Cemetery Association contacted the office of U.S. Representative Rodney Davis. The matter was handed over to Shannon Yount, a veterans constituent with the U.S. House of Representatives. It was Yount who found the discrepancy in the spelling of the last name and was able to get the appropriate markers to be placed in the cemetery.
“We’re here today to honor two brothers, John and Mike Basel, who many decades ago made the supreme sacrifice for their country. Although this honor has been a long time coming, it is now made possible with the help of U.S. Representative Rodney Davis’ office, especially Veterans Constituent Representative Shannon Yount. Without her persistence and dedication, this ceremony would not be taking place,” said Benld Cemetery Association President John Balzraine.
Following Balzraine’s opening remarks, the colors were posted by the Staunton VFW Color Guard and those in attendance recited the Pledge of Allegiance. Father Nicholas Finley of Nativity of the Virgin Mary Orthodox Church in Madison provided the opening prayer.
When Davis spoke, he expressed his appreciation for the sacrifices of the Basel brothers and his thanks to members of the Benld Cemetery Association for seeking proper recognition for the brothers. He recounted the efforts put forth by Yount to find the pair’s service records and the persistence of cemetery association member Ed Saracco. He noted the importance of having people like Saracco and Balzraine around to make sure people like the Basel brothers are not forgotten.
“We’re going to need to make sure we tell this story as we move forward and for the next generation, to honor those who will be the next John and Mike Basel and will need that honor and that same grave marker. Let us not forget and let us honor them again today,” said Davis.
The next to speak was Commander Bill Bomkamp of VFW 4547 in Gillespie. “We are here to give recognition to Mike and John Basel and to the Basel family,” said Bomkamp, adding, “My heart is happy today to know that Mike and John Basel received the recognition they deserve.”
“It is a priviledge for Gillespie Post 4547 to be here. God bless Mike and John Basel, and God bless America,” concluded Bomkamp.
The crowd stood while the bronze grave markers were presented to VFW members Jeff Warford and Ray Alexander. VFW members from Alton performed a 21-gun salute, which was followed by a prayer by Finley and closing remarks from Balzraine who thanked those in attendance and all who had a hand in bringing deserved honor to the Basel brothers.