Veteran brothers to be honored May 12
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A decades-old wrong will soon be righted when a pair of veteran brothers get their veterans grave markers in the Russian Orthodox section of Benld City Cemetery.
John and Mike Betza grew up in Benld, two of seven children born to Alex and Eva Betza, who emigrated from Austria-Hungary in the early 1900s. Alex worked in the coal mines and the family was active in the Russian Orthodox Church.
It’s unknown exactly why the brothers went so long without appropriate grave markers, but it may have something to do with a language barrier and the fact that other siblings adopted alternate spellings of their last name — Bettza, Betsa and Basel. At least, that’s what was discovered when members of the Benld Cemetery Association began their effort to resolve the situation. Without any known family members available to act on behalf of the brothers, board members reached out to the office of Rep. Rodney Davis, who put the matter in the hands of Shannon Yount, Veterans Fellow in Davis’ Maryville office.
Some research on the part of Yount uncovered information showing that both John and Mike were enlisted under the last name “Basel” — John, first in the U.S. Army before enlisting in the U.S. Navy, and Mike, in the U.S. Merchant Marines. The information she uncovered included the following:
Seaman Mike Basel was born on Jan. 13, 1919, and entered into the U.S. Merchant Marines as an Able Seaman on Dec. 1, 1941. He was on the S.S. Alcoa Rambler when it was torpedoed by a German submarine on Dec. 15, 1942, while en route to Santos, Brazil. According to the casualty report, there was one casualty and 54 survivors. That casualty was Mike Basel. Among his medals and ribbons are the Merchant Marine Emblem, Presidential Testimonial Letter, honorable Service Medal Victory Medal and Mariner’s Medal.
Although the Merchant Marines isn’t considered a branch of the military, since Mike’s death occurred while the S.S. Alcoa Rambler was in service as part of the war effort, Mike’s sacrifice is considered that of a veteran.
John Basel was born on Jan. 6, 1916, and served in the U.S. Army from June 5, 1936, to June 4, 1939, and in the U.S.. Navy from July 25, 1940, where he served as an electrician’s mate. John was declared “missing in action” as of March 22, 1943, when the submarine on which he was stationed, the U.S.S. Grampus, was lost in the southwest Pacific. His medals and ribbons, posthumously awarded, are the Purple Heart Medal, American Defense Service Medal and World War II Victory Medal.
The remains of neither brother were ever found; however, their names and photos are mounted on the grave marker of their parents, Alex and Eva Betza, in Benld City Cemetery.
Although no family members have been located, members of the Benld Cemetery Association will hold a ceremony, placing the veterans grave markers and honoring the memories of John and Mike Betza. The ceremony will be held at 10 a.m., Friday, May 12. The public is invited to attend.
There’s still hope a family member will be located so they can be presented with the brothers’ military documents, which include presidential citations. The markers that will be placed in honor of the brothers will show their name as Basel, since that is what their records show.
The tombstone of Alex and Eva Betza bears the names and military photos of their sons, John and Mike. The veterans will soon have official military grave markers of their own, which will be presented during a public ceremony at 10 a.m., Friday, May 12, in the Russian Orthodox section of Benld City Cemetery.