JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Thirteen unclaimed military veterans and five military spouses were interred at the Jacksonville National Cemetery on Friday thanks to the efforts of the Missing In America Project .
The veterans had served in World Wars I and II, Korea, and Vietnam. The cremains had been on shelves of local funeral homes for many, many years. One died as far back as 1970.
The Missing in America Project with the help of the American Legion and others volunteer groups, works to identify the cremains of veterans, and then works with the Veterans Administration to schedule their interment in a national cemetery. Their families in some cases just get separated by many miles.
"Family becomes distance from each other, spouses want their funeral services together and say don't do anything with my cremains until my spouse dies, and the spouse maybe moves or remarries and the family doesn't know the remains are sitting on a funeral home shelf, " said Kathy Church, Florida coordinator for MIAP. "Some unfortunately are indigent and have no family. There are many reasons they sit on the funeral home shelf."
Kathy Church of Neptune Beach is the state coordinator for MAIP and says this is the most rewarding thing she has ever done.
"These men and women sign on the dotted line, and gave their lives and it is wrong that they are sitting on shelves unclaimed."
Only six families of these 18 were able to be contacted. They were many miles away and none were able to make the trip to the ceremony.
NAS Jax Commanding Officer Captain Roy Undersander was the guest speaker and said they were among heroes.
"These American heroes and their spouses are no longer forgotten, today the Jacksonville community honors each of them to show it's utmost respect."
The names were all read, and a bell tolled for each. An honor guard fired a volley, and taps were played. Then the cremains of the unclaimed 18 were placed in the columbarium, a solemn occasion.
"These are not forgotten," Church reminded those in attendance who endured hot temperatures to be there.
The Missing in America Project has interred over 2000 unclaimed veterans since 2006, 53 of them in Jacksonville the past year. Another service is planned by MIAP in Jacksonville in the fall.