Military personnel finally laid to rest

May 15, 2009 3:45:38 PM PDT
It was a final farewell for service members whose remains were unclaimed.

His name was George Wells, a Navy veteran who died in 1984. For 25 years his ashes sat in the garage of a North Jersey funeral home, forgotten, unclaimed, and never buried - until now.

Fellow veterans gathered at the Gen. William Doyle Military Cemetery in Wrightstown to give this long-gone sailor a proper military funeral. It's the first for an organization called Mission of Honor, a statewide effort to identify the unclaimed cremains of veterans and bury them.

"Who knows, people didn't have the money to pay," said Rob Ford of the Vietnam Veterans of America. "Maybe they didn't have family, maybe I don't know. The point is they're there and they belong here."

"A lot of them are lost and no one knows where they are," said Joan Wagenheim of the American Legion Post 493. "And it's time to bring them in and honor them."

Another veteran laid to rest was Joseph Glass, an Army infantryman who earned a medal at Normandy, and whose ashes were unclaimed since 1993 until the Mission of Honor found him. Organizers say six others have been found at one funeral home.

"Four are from World War I," said Roman Niedzwiedz of Mission of Honor. "Others passed away in 1901 and 1904, which means they were from the Civil War or the Spanish American War or the Indian War."

No one knows why some of the cremains were never claimed, but their brothers-in-arms feel it's their duty to find, identify and honor them.

"We're going to go out there and locate them and do what should have been done years ago," said Mission of Honor's Francis Carrasco.

Assemblyman Jack Conners of Burlington County said, "There were cremains left in funeral parlors, hospitals, prisons. They're all over."

Conners sponsored the law allowing veterans' groups to do this. There are believed to be so many abandoned ashes out there, that funerals like today's, paid for with donations, will be going on for years.

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