AUGUST 4, 2011 - The cremated remains of 12 veterans that had been unclaimed on the shelves of funeral homes across New Jersey — some for more than 30 years — were given a full military interment Thursday.
The burials were part of the ongoing efforts of the New Jersey Mission of Honor, which seeks to pay tribute to deceased and forgotten soldiers.
The day began with a special ceremony outside the Garfield VFW Post. Veterans from all over the state, some in full uniform and others in jeans and denim vests who rode in on Harleys, came to honor their reclaimed comrades.
When the Mission of Honor began two years ago, its members were told that there were no cremains to be found sitting forgotten on the shelves of funeral homes, said Francis Carrasco, chairman of the Mission of Honor and a Lodi resident. But so far, the group has returned unclaimed veterans’ cremains to roughly 130 families, and have buried 31 who had no one else to claim them.
“Destiny has brought us here to gather and pay our respects to these cremains that had been forgotten, but have been found,” said Al Lucente, Bergen County Coordinator of the Mission of Honor. “They have endured enough. They now have closure.”
The cremains of the veterans were claimed from Lakeview Memorial Home in Clifton, Codey Funeral Home in Orange, Day Funeral Home in Keyport, and the Aug F. Schmidt Funeral Home in Elizabeth. All but two of the men served in World War II. The cremains of Robert M. Hults, of Orange, who served as a sergeant with the Army from 1942 to 1946, had been on a shelf at the Codey Funeral Home in Orange for almost 38 years before the Mission of Honor came knocking.
After the ceremony in Garfield, the State Police led a funeral procession down the Turnpike to Brigadier General William C. Doyle Veterans Memorial Cemetery, in Wrightstown. The roar of the bikers’ engines gave way to a solemn silence at 2 p.m. as the Mission of Honor, joined by various representatives of the Armed Forces, conducted a full military internment.
Maj. Gen. Glenn K. Rieth, Adjutant General of New Jersey, praised the all-volunteer group for its ongoing efforts.
“There’s not any veteran that should be left alone anywhere,” Rieth said. “Every veteran, regardless of where they are, regardless of what shelf they sit on, should be laid to rest with dignity and honor.”
Mission of Honor Chaplain Jerry Skorch delivered a eulogy for the internment, and gave some insight into who the 12 men were – where they were born, where and when they served, and where they lived out the remainders of their lives once they returned to the U.S. For each veteran, he proclaimed that on that day, everyone present was that man’s family.
After the eulogy, six soldiers in uniform stood before the dark wooden boxes containing the veterans’ cremains and unfurled a large American flag. Across the field, seven volunteers from the Mission of Honor, dressed in black, white and gold, fired three volleys. Retired First Sgt. Richard Pinter played Taps on his bugle. The uniformed soldiers then carefully folded the flag into a tight triangle, and presented it to Rieth. Eleven more flags were then presented to the general in graceful and somber precision, and the ceremony was over.
“This is a beautiful thing,” said Fred Vineyard, of Somers Point, the 1st Vice Commander of American Veterans, a national veteran’s group. “These men were sitting on selves for years and years. They deserve a resting place here in Doyle cemetery.”
The Mission of Honor is currently working to verify that cremains from a home in Cliffside Park are from veterans, Carrasco said. The group expects to hold its next internment ceremony in Toms River in October.
“As long as funeral homes keep working with us to allow us to identify these cremains, we’ll keep going,” Carrasco said.