Hope Stubenhofer kept smiling at her cousins, standing along the wall of windows. The happy blond girl refused to sit still, walking over to the young boy and girl on her still unsteady toddler legs, waving happily without making a sound.
Nearby, her mother Patty Stubenhofer and older sister Lauren, 6, sat next to each other, Lauren in a pink dress with ribbons in her hair, Patty taking in all the love and support that surrounded her and her young family, holding on to the adoration, respect and fond memories being replayed by those who loved her husband.
Over 100 friends, family members and former West Springfield High School classmates gathered to remember Capt. Mark Stubenhofer, a 1992 West Springfield graduate who served two tours of duty in Iraq with the U.S. Army. He was killed during an attack on a kerosene pipeline on Dec. 7, 2004.
During an afternoon ceremony at the Springfield District Government Center Wednesday, Oct. 12, Stubenhofer's commanding officer, parents and U.S. Rep. Tom Davis (R-11) took turns honoring Stubenhofer before unveiling a plaque, dedicating the West Springfield Post Office on Rolling Road in his name.
"The mission of the post office won't change," said Walter Honchar, postmaster of the Springfield Post Office. "The building won't look any different, but now there will be something to remind everyone of the ideals Mark cherished: family, friends and freedom."
Stubenhofer's commanding officer, Lt. Col. David Batchelor had just taken over control of the 41st Infantry Task Force in May of last year, when Stubenhofer began his second tour of duty in Iraq. Batchelor quickly learned that Stubenhofer, who had been asked to give up a position in Arlington to lead his unit, the 1st Battalion, 41st Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade, 1st Armored Division, into action against Iraqi terrorists, had "a firm handle on the situation," he said. "He was hard working, duty-bound and always did the right thing. Mark always did the right thing."
Leading his troops into action was something Stubenhofer knew his wife wouldn't like, Batchelor said. It was one of many things the men would talk about when they'd meet each other during nightly patrols.
ON THE NIGHT of Dec. 5, 2004, Batchelor said he felt a strong urge to tell Stubenhofer "what a good job he was doing." Two days later, the kerosene line Stubenhofer's unit was protecting from insurgents and terrorists was attacked.
"His unit was attacked in a crowded city of 2.8 million people," said Batchelor. "The soldiers fought their attackers without harming any Iraqi citizens and were able to get him to a medical unit. Make no mistake, the people we're fighting there are terrorists."
The men who served under Stubenhofer are still "striving for excellence," said Batchelor, carrying on Stubenhofer's mission to help the citizens of Iraq who hope for a better future.
Ron Tugwell, who had been Stubenhofer's baseball coach at West Springfield High School, thanked Mark's paper route for his strong pitching arm. "He wasn't necessarily the best hitter or the fastest runner, but he knew how to compete," Tugwell said. "He kept his focus and made everything fun. He knew how to win. Mark was the guy we all wanted on our team."
A classmate at West Springfield, Ryan Kelly said he felt honored to have been asked to talk about his friend. "We both liked country music at a time when it wasn't as popular as it is now," he said, smiling. "We were also both paperboys, so in the morning we'd talk about how our routes went, if we got up on time. Mark was featured on the cover of the business section of USA Today as the last paperboy, but I was one of the last paperboys too," he said, chuckling.
"Mark typified the all-American guy. He had a great sense of humor, a twinkle in his eye and an 'aw-shucks' smile. He was the image of hope and faith and courage," said Kelly, adding that his friend "never grew up and lost his faith or hope or heart."
Sitting next to Davis, listening to the kind words spoken about her son, Sallie Stubenhofer took her turn remembering her middle child.
"We always are and always will be incredibly proud of him," she said. "He cared deeply about his parents and his siblings. He was a young boy who talked and squirmed in church who grew into a man who could recognize the hand of God in everything."
Sallie Stubenhofer talked of the boy who would ask questions, demand immediate answers and who grew into a young man "never wrong about anything and would gladly offer his opinion, in great detail, on any subject." Her son, she said, loved his wife and children with "a fervent devotion and undying passion."
DURING MARK STUBENHOFER'S military career, he and his mother would talk of his service. "Mark said no one would ever hear heroic tales about him because he wasn't a hero, he was simply doing his job," said Sallie Stubenhofer. His family never knew the real danger he was in because he didn't tell them, he didn't want them to worry.
"Mark said he believed no one would notice his accomplishments," Sallie Stubenhofer said. "For once in his life, he was wrong."
To honor Mark Stubenhofer's devotion to his country, Davis authored the legislation that helped secure the dedication of the West Springfield Post Office in Stubenhofer's name, a "rare feat," he said.
"There are 40,000 post offices in this country and having one named after a person is difficult," said Davis. "These bills are very contentious. Three weeks ago, a nomination was killed, but this one passed through unanimously, something that's a rare feat in itself these days."
Before unveiling the brass plaque that would hang in the post office that bears Mark Stubenhofer's name, Davis called the young soldier, father, husband and son "a great citizen, one of America's finest officers, one of its bravest. Mark Stubenhofer served like a hero, and we will always remember him as one."
Patty Stubenhofer declined to comment on the ceremony honoring her husband, her wedding ring on a gold chain around her neck. She had more important things on her mind that day, keeping an eye on her children: Lauren, who was born while the family was stationed in Alaska; son Ryan, 4, and daughter Hope, a little over a year old. Hope Stubenhofer never knew her father, who died when she was only 5 months old, but her name comes from the strong belief her father had in what he was doing, restoring hope in peace, democracy and freedom.