Ron Bennett yesterday remembered his father, Roland Murphy Bennett, as “a very successful life insurance broker” and a “personable and charitable” man. But Bennett had not seen his father for more than 15 years and until two days ago did not know if he was alive.
Bennett and other family members gathered yesterday at 25th Street and Virginia Avenue with people who had come to know Roland Murphy Bennett as “The Admiral,” a dignified, 60-year-old man who lived on a grate on a Foggy Bottom traffic island until his death in November 1985.
Ron Bennett, 36, came from San Francisco. His brother, Roland Murphy Bennett Jr., 33, came from Lawrence, Massachusetts. They were each told about their father's death by an aunt in Tampa, Florida, who had read in the Tampa Tribune about a memorial service planned for a D.C. homeless man whose relatives were believed to be in Florida.
“Happiness that we finally found him, and sadness that it happened this way,” Ron Bennett said in describing how he felt when he heard that, finally, his father had been located.
Earlier in the day, the Bennett family gathered at Arlington National Cemetery for a military funeral. An urn bearing Bennett's remains was draped with a flag, and his memory and contribution to the Navy, in which he served two years as a fireman during World War II, were saluted by rifle fire. But the memorial service across from the Kennedy Center and the Watergate complex exemplified the Roland Bennett known by his family and by area residents, workers and students.
“There was such good humor in his face. There was something tranquil and very joyous about him,” said Doreen Hitchcock, a telephone operator at the Kennedy Center who had befriended Bennett. Hitchcock stood with Bennett's grate to her left. It had been draped with the flag used in his military funeral and decorated with roses. The Navy uniform Bennett always wore–a merchant marine officer's cap and a braided jacket with 19 stripes stretching up its sleeves–rested alongside the flowers, and a cluster of yellow balloons floated overhead, waiting to be released.
The splendor of the service, the honor of the military funeral and the presence of Bennett's family were arranged by Hitchcock and the D.C. Coalition for the Homeless. Hitchcock said she was filled with compassion upon hearing of Bennett's death from a heart attack Nov 21, and she decided that she had to do something for him. “I started walking the streets,” Hitchcock said. “Do you know ‘The Admiral?'” she would ask street people, shelter residents and Foggy Bottom area residents and workers. “Yeah, I know him,” was always the response, Hitchcock said.
Contributions for a memorial came in, and, when Hitchcock contacted the Coalition in early January, the search for Bennett's relatives was stepped up, Hitchcock said. Hitchcock's dream, to recognize a man who had done much for those around him, was realized. “I think ‘The Admiral' would have loved it,” she said. “The Admiral” also likely would have loved what the service did for those who attended. As Carol Fennelly, a Coalition for Creative Non-Violence representative who spoke, said, shelters, programs and money will not end homelessness and the disintegration of families. “The solution to the problem lies in the hearts of all of us,” Fennelly said, adding that people must “begin to understand how important it is to realize that (homeless people) all come from somewhere. They have brothers. They have sisters. They have feelings.”
BENNETT, ROLAND M SR
United States Navy
- DATE OF BIRTH: 09/13/1925
- DATE OF DEATH: 11/21/1985
- BURIED AT: SECTION 1-OO SITE 2
- ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY
Michael Robert Patterson was born in Arlington and is the son of a former officer of the US Army. So it was no wonder that sooner or later his interests drew him to American history and especially to American military history. Many of his articles can be found on renowned portals like the New York Times, Washingtonpost or Wikipedia.
Reviewed by: Michael Howard