Forgotten heroes finally remembered


Published:

A solemn ceremony finally honored 21 veterans and one spouse, whose remains were left in an Indian River County funeral home. The June 23 ceremony honored and paid respects to the once-forgotten veterans with a military-burial tradition that included “Taps,” a 21-gun volley, a flag folding and presentation. The Missing in America Project is an organization that locates, identifies and inters the unclaimed cremains of American veterans. It organized the burial that was attended by more than 200 veterans and civilians.

SENIOR LIFE Jill Blue

On June 23, a solemn procession of 44 pallbearers helped lay to rest at Cape Canaveral National Cemetery a group of once-forgotten heroes.

With a fife and drum corps adding unforgettable music and an honor guard leading them to their final resting place, the pallbearers carried the cremated remains of 21 veterans and a veteran’s spouse. For years, the cremains had remained unclaimed at a funeral home in Indian River County.

“Many of them were left in storage at the funeral home for decades,” said Paul Markonni, team leader of the Missing in America Project, which organized the burial.

Among the veterans interred is a World War II veteran whose remains were unclaimed for 20 years.

Launched in 2007, the Missing in America Project is a national initiative to locate, identify and inter the unclaimed cremated remains of American veterans and their spouses. The California-based organization aims to honor and respect those who have served this country by securing a final resting place for them.

More than 3,500 veterans, including a World War I vet whose remains had laid in a funeral home since 1956, have been interred to date thanks to the efforts of volunteers such as Markonni, who seek lists of unclaimed cremains from funeral homes around Florida and go through the detective work necessary to determine if the individuals were veterans or married to a vet.

“About 20 to 30 percent of the cremains we investigate are of veterans and their spouses,” Markonni said.

Some of the vets were homeless, long estranged from any family. Others were affluent but had outlived family members. Until the Missing in America Project stepped in, no one claimed the cremains of a well-regarded female attorney who had served as an adviser to Gen. Douglas MacArthur.

“In some cases, family members can’t afford to pay the costs of the burial, and in others, they just simply can’t handle it emotionally,” said Markonni, who has helped inter 166 veterans since he began volunteering for the Missing in America Project
in 2014.

The group works with the American Legion and other volunteer service and veteran organizations, state and national veterans’ administration agencies, local funeral homes, state funeral commissions and the state and national veterans’ cemetery administrations.

The number of veterans awaiting burial is appallingly high. Recently, two funeral homes provided the Missing in America Project with more than 2,400 cremains to verify for veterans’ status. There will be thousands more to verify and bury.

To recover all the veterans whose remains are languishing in shelves across the nation, Missing in America encourages individual donations. A gift of $50 will help purchase burial permits and urns.

For more information, go to miap.us.