News: Unclaimed veterans laid to rest
Story by Sgt. Marcy Sanchez
MARINE CORPS AIR STATION BEAUFORT, S.C. - Silence… the only harmony that filled the air at Beaufort National Cemetery as 10 unclaimed remains of American veterans were laid to rest during a ceremony, Dec. 13.
The ceremony was part of The Missing in America Project, a nation-wide effort to locate, identify and bury unclaimed remains of forgotten veterans.
The remains were of 10 veterans from all military branches that were stored at coroner’s offices throughout South Carolina prior to being laid to rest at Beaufort National Cemetery. A tedious process takes place to guarantee the veterans get the military honors they deserve. It includes corresponding with the Department of Defense to verify their military service and to confirm they were honorably discharged.
“They are part of my family. I don’t know them personally, I don’t know the stuff they’ve done before, why they’re where there at,” said Larry Truax, an army veteran and assistant coordinator for MIAP South Carolina. “They also deserve the honor and respect that they earned.”
According to Truax, funeral homes and coroners have the option to dispose of the cremains after 90 days left unclaimed.
“They keep the cremains out of the kindness of their own heart,” said Truax, a native of Myrtle Beach, S.C. “We started the Missing in America Project here because nobody had heard of it. Nobody else was doing it in South Carolina.”
The respect to those who were forgotten goes beyond providing a military funeral; it’s part of a larger picture. It’s part of a family formed by service members and patriots.
“When you go to a military funeral it’s beautiful; the most respectful way a man or woman can be laid to rest. They’ve earned it,” said Jim Brewer, a rider with the Patriot Guard Riders of South Carolina. “I’m a patriot; I do what I can. It’s a kind of payback. I always felt guilty about not serving and this is my way of serving.”
Brewer, along with the Beaufort community, demonstrated their patriotism in honoring the 10 cremated veterans by laying them to rest surrounded by other protectors of our country.
“These 10 men served their country, but didn’t have family to take care of them when they passed. Their military brothers and sisters stepped up and became their family to lay them to rest,” said Brewer, a native of Lexington, S.C. “I think that’s awesome.”
Truax related the burial of the service members to the Vietnam War and returning home to a country that was unsupportive.
“We’ve changed that, we’re changing it,” said Truax. “The veterans believe in it and want to come out and pay their respect, because they understand.”
To veterans, the brotherhood that exists with other veterans is more than skin deep.
“They might be unclaimed but they’re not. We’re all family, and we take care of our own regardless of military branch,” said retired Master Sgt. Bill Havelin, the post commander for Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8760. “The most unique thing about this service is that the community comes together to honor them.”
Whether veterans of the Korean War, Vietnam, or of peacetime, the cremated remains of the service members interred were not unclaimed but brothers-in-arms who volunteered to protect democracy.