Hensley served 27 years as a U.S. Navy chaplain
Editor’s note: This article is part of The Inter-Mountain’s Unsung Heroes series for 2020, which features veterans in our area sharing first-hand accounts of their military service. The series will be published through Veterans Day.
ELKINS — The Rev. Basil Hensley, a longtime Elkins pastor, served 27 years in the U.S. Navy Reserve as a chaplain.
Hensley said his eight deployments across the United States taught him many things and strengthened his faith.
He said his service career started when he was commissioned as a chaplain in 1963 as a reserve officer with the rank of lieutenant. His first active duty assignment was at the U.S. Navy Chaplain School in Newport, Rhode Island.
Hensley was assigned as the chaplain for the Huntington unit of the Navy Seabees; from there he moved to Ripley in 1965 and drilled with a unit from South Charleston.
From 1972 to 1978 he served as the pastor for a unit out of Parkersburg, and it was during this time he was promoted to the rank of commander.
“Navy chaplains also have collateral duties,” he said. “If someone was killed in action, I was to notify the next of kin.”
Hensley then completed active duty training at the U.S. Naval Chaplain School at Newport. He continued to serve at the Norfolk Naval Base in Norfolk, Virginia.
He said one of his most memorable deployments was with the 23rd Battalion of the Seabees doing construction work in Mississippi during a hurricane disaster in the late 1960s.
“These people were builders and hard workers,” he said. “I enjoyed all the places I served.”
Hensley said that, during the Vietnam War era, he served two different tours of duty at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, formerly known as the National Naval Medical Center, in Bethesda, Maryland.
“It is the premier naval hospital in the United States,” he said. “That is where I saw how terrible war was and I saw the sacrifices these men and women made so we could have a free nation.”
Hensley also served a tour at the Portsmouth Naval Hospital in Virginia. He said while there he was asked by a veteran to be present during his open heart surgery. Hensley said he was sitting in a balcony overlooking the surgery when the surgeon saw him and spoke.
“The surgeon looked up and saw me and asked me where I was from,” Hensley recalled. “I told him I was from West Virginia and he said he was from Charleston.”
Hensley moved to Elkins in 1978 when he was appointed the pastor at the First United Methodist Church. To continue to serve on active duty, he would have had to travel to Pittsburgh. He decided instead to step down from active duty.
“I decided at that time to drop anchor and become a reserve,” he said.
Hensley continued to serve until he was honorably discharged in 1990.
He said that during his 13 years as a reserve chaplain, things “really came alive for me.” He said the Navy gave him the opportunity to work with pastors from several different religions and it helped build his faith.
“The chaplain corps is very liberating and a great moment in my life,” Hensley said. “We learned what it was to cooperate in missionary. It was very liberating for me.
“You realize we are all one. We all served together, chaplains of different races and backgrounds. I realized how important it is to listen to other people.”
Hensley retired from First United Methodist Church in 2001 after 23 years as pastor.
“It was a great ministry and congregation,” he said.
Hensley and his wife Janis were married in 1951. The couple shared 66 years of marriage until her death in 2018. Hensley has three daughters and two sons.
Hensley now serves as the chaplain at the Elkins Rehabilitation & Care Center and sits on the Board of Directors at the Randolph County Senior Center.