A group of living veterans are giving the dead the burial they never had.
Hundreds of cremated remains of former soldiers have sat for decades, unclaimed, on shelves of funeral homes in New Jersey. A group of living veterans are giving the dead the burial they never had.[audio: 100628PCVETS.mp3]
It’s called the Mission of Honor, a nationwide network of volunteers who hunt through funeral homes for unclaimed ashes. Ron Hathaway is one of them – a 68 year-old career Marine who served in Vietnam.
These Vets have been sitting on shelves for 10, 20, 30 years. Some were on the shelf for 40 years.
But rescuing forgotten ashes in New Jersey wasn’t possible – it was illegal – until last year when a new law gave the Mission of Honor special permission to collect remains.
We have ID cards for each county coordinator – and that gives him authority to go to funeral directors and request that they be allowed to go through the cremains and see if there’s any veterans there.
Recently they put the remains where they should be – in the ground, at Brigadier General William Doyle Cemetery near Fort Dix, with full military honors.
The procession is mostly older veterans that Ron Hathaway has whipped into shape.
These guys are in their 60’s, they’re not young chippies. Guys have arthritis. But we do what we can do.
“Heavenly Father, we thank you and praise you for these veterans…”
A military chaplain delivers a eulogy for Richard Ansel. Ansel served in World War One, a later died in 1957.
“The ashes have been awaiting burial for 53 years, unclaimed. Today, we are Richards family,” he said.
“How and why could somebody not bury family who was a veteran? There are all kinds of reasons. We feel, once they have been abandonded, we claim them. They become our family,” said Hathaway.
There are no friends or relatives at this funeral – nobody who knew Richard Ansel in life. But there are some civilians, like Carol Ioannides from Central Jersey.
I think we owe these veterans back for the job they did for our freedoms. Poeple don’t realize because them you can bitch about your government, or whatever. Other countries don’t have that right.
The Mission of Honor buried the remains of nine soldiers at this funeral. Ron Hathaway says there are so many more unclaimed soldiers left in the state that he can keep doing this until he can’t do it anymore.
This story was produced by Peter Crimmins and reported by Therese Madden.