Dauphin County Gold Star Mother to remember ‘Field of Forgottens’

SWATARA TOWNSHIP, Pa. -- It took nearly three years for Suzanne Sheaffer to find herself after her son's death, but she found it in an empty field in Dauphin County.

Sheaffer, a Gold Star Mother, lost her son William "Billy" Trapnell, unexpectedly while serving in the Coast Guard on December 30, 2013. Billy was also an Army veteran, serving tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A few months ago, Sheaffer, who is finishing up an internship with the Dauphin County Coroner's office as part of her Masters program in forensic nursing at Fitchburg State University, was walking through Potter's Field in Swatara Township with an associate. She came across a headstone for Frank Bakanus Jr., a Navy veteran of World War II, and believed to be the last man buried in the Potter's Field cemetery in 1998.

"You hear Gold Star Mothers talk about a God-wink, or a wink from your child, and i think this was a hug from Mr. Bakanus and a whole lot of winks from Billy too," Sheaffer said. "This was clearly meant to be."

More than 800 people are believed buried at Potter's Field; 784 are identified and listed on the county's cemetery website. Sheaffer, thanks to her nod from above, is working to identify all other veterans buried at Potter's in the hopes each will be honored and properly remembered.

"The nasty nickname was 'The Field of the Forgottens,'" Shaeffer said. "To be interred here means there wasn't family that could claim, could not afford to claim, or in Mr. Frank's case, he had no living relatives when he passed away."

Frank Bakanus Jr. will be honored at a ceremony on Thursday, December 15, at 1 p.m. Four Gold Star families and two Blue Star families will be in attendance, as will representatives from all five branches of the military. Sheaffer planned the tribute in partnership with Wreaths Across America, the organization that lays wreaths at the graves of soldiers. The Swatara Township Fire Company, which Billy worked for before joining the military, will also take part in the ceremony.

"For me, as a Gold Star Mother, to change the tone of that cemetery out of the love of my son but also honor all our veterans, that is beyond any words I can say."