Giving Forgotten Veterans a Dignified Departure - Miller-McCune
The first time Bob Day came across Arthur Uffman, the World War II veteran had long been cremated, his ashes forgotten on a shelf at an Arizona mortuary.
For Day, who served in Vietnam, allowing the veteran’s remains to languish any longer would have been akin to abandoning a fellow soldier stricken in combat. So the point man in Arizona for the Missing in America Project set out to give Uffman a proper sendoff.
In April, a hearse carried Uffman’s ashes in a golden metal urn to his final destination: a veterans’ cemetery where he and 17 other long-neglected service members, most indigent and homeless, were laid to rest with military honors. Uffman had died in 1994, two years after his wife, Pauline. Her ashes, which sat unclaimed in the same funeral home, were buried alongside her husband’s.
That he knew almost nothing about the lives of any of the veterans honored at the solemn service mattered little to Day, one of hundreds of volunteers with the Missing in America Project working to identify and inter the unclaimed ashes of veterans. He knew they had served their country well and received an honorable discharge. “That’s enough for us as veterans. They belong with their brothers in a place of honor.”
In 48 states, from Oregon to New York, New Mexico to Missouri, funeral ceremonies like the one near Tucson — the first of its kind in the region — are happening more frequently. Since its creation in 2007, the nonprofit Missing in America Project has recovered the cremated remains of 1,847 veterans, laying most to rest, said Fred Salanti, the group’s executive director.
So far, volunteers have visited 1,982 funeral homes and found 11,219 cremated remains, he said: “We just got 700 names in Florida and they’re working like crazy to identify them. Florida has yet to have a service, but when they have one it will be pretty good-sized.”
The program primarily deals with cremated remains, and trying to determine whether the unclaimed ashes belong to veterans is an arduous process that includes hours of poring through piles of paperwork. Each name is checked against records from the Department of Veterans Affairs that confirm military service and confer burial benefits.