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Thank the man who saved the Virginia War Memorial

Posted at 2:09 PM, May 19, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-19 18:47:29-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- As Executive Director of the Virginia War Memorial in Richmond Jon Hatfield wears many hats. From Public Relations and preservationist to visionary.

The 60-year-old War Memorial honors Virginians who lost their lives serving the nation from World War II to the War on Terror. Hatfield has been pouring his heart and soul into the landmark on Belvedere for the last 20 years.

"We owe them more than just reflection," Hatfield said. "We need to pass their stories forward."

Jon Hatfield

Jon Hatfield

When he first started, the War Memorial was literally falling apart.

"When I came here in the early 1990’s the roof leaked in the shrine. The reflecting pool would not hold water. The eternal flame had not burned in many years," Hatfield said. "It sort of takes the meaning away from eternal if it hasn’t burned in many years."

Virginia War Memorial (PHOTO: Virginia War Memorial)

Virginia War Memorial (PHOTO: Virginia War Memorial)

He initiated emergency renovations shortly after taking the job.

Then in 2009, he oversaw an multi-million dollar expansion of the structure and opening of the 18,000-square-foot Paul and Phyllis Galanti Center. The later thrust the Memorial into the 21st century as a premier center for education.

"I see that duty as a responsibility that we have to never forget their sacrifice," Hatfield said.

The 70-year-old Chesterfield man said he found motivation by focusing on the names engraved on the marble and glass. The names of men and women who gave so much.

Visitors like Lori Detwiler, whose uncle’s name is etched on the wall, appreciate Jon Hatfield’s dedication.

"It is a calling. Extremely grateful," Detwiler said. "That man gets it. He absolutely gets it and he understand how important this space is. And how important it is to never forget those who sacrificed so much."

After two decades on the job, Hatfield is retiring in June. The proud U.S. Army veteran called it a bittersweet decision.

"It is difficult when you love what you do to say when to say when," he said. "This place in honoring our heroes means an awful lot to me."

Colleagues, like Suzanne Feigley, said no one worked harder than their friend Jon Hatfield.

"Jon Hatfield will always be the War Memorial," Feigley said. "The Memorial was opened in 1956, but he came in and saved it. He is in the trenches with us. If we’re here he is here."

Virginia War Memorial (PHOTO: Virginia Historical Society)

Virginia War Memorial (PHOTO: Virginia Historical Society)

He may be walking away, but Jon Hatfield is leaving a large part of himself and all of those hats behind at the hallowed shrine he loves.

"I have been accorded an honor I think people never get and I am a lucky man," he said.

Jon Hatfield will step down from his position as Executive Director of the War Memorial on June 15.

John C. Mountcastle will succeed Hatfield as Executive Director. Mountcastle joined the Virginia War Memorial after serving as Assistant Professor of Military History at U.S. Army Command and General Staff at Fort Lee. Mountcastle is a retired Lieutenant Colonel who served 21 years in the U.S. Army.

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Greg McQuade features local heroes in a weekly “Heroes Among Us” segment. Watch Greg’s reports Thursdays on CBS News at 6 or here on WTVR.com. If you would like to nominate someone to be featured on “Heroes Among Us,” click here to email heroes@wtvr.com.