Unclaimed remains of six vets go to Fort Richardson

Men have been dead as long as 10 years, but no one claimed remains because families forgot or there was no one left to care

Posted: Wednesday, April 21, 2010

ANCHORAGE - The unclaimed remains of six veterans will be buried Wednesday at Fort Richardson National Cemetery with final military honors.

Erik Hill / The Associated Press
Erik Hill / The Associated Press

The Anchorage Daily News reports the men have been dead as long as 10 years, but no one claimed the cremated remains because families forgot or there was no one left to care.

Now the Missing in America Project is collecting remains from funeral homes and making sure that veterans get the death benefits to which they are entitled.

In most cases, there's no one left to claim the remains, said Virginia Walker, director of the Fort Richardson and Sitka national cemeteries.

"Things fall through the cracks," she said.

The problem of unclaimed ashes isn't unique to veterans. Walker said she's thus far come across 93 unclaimed cremated remains at Alaska funeral homes, some dating back to the 1960s. She has been able to link 14 to the armed services, which qualifies them for military funerals.

In addition to the six being buried Wednesday, eight more are in line for services, she said. Two others were not eligible because of dishonorable discharges, she said.

Abandoned remains often involve people who can't afford to pay for services or people who just don't care, said Missing in America Project executive director Fred Salanti, who lives in California.

The nonprofit project, which is run by volunteers, started in 2007 after Salanti, a Vietnam veteran, was working for Eagle Point National Cemetery in Oregon and learned that remains of veterans had been abandoned at funeral homes in several western states.

"Everybody deserves to have the honor and respect that's due them for being a soldier in the service," Salanti said. "You join the Army, you wrote a blank check. Whether you were called to war ... it doesn't matter. At any given time, you were given the chance to have your life taken for this country. And we've made a promise to take care of them all."

Salanti started the group to do the research for funeral homes to see if the remains qualified for military benefits, he said. Burying the remains in national cemeteries, which offer an online nationwide grave site locator, gives easy access to where a family member is buried.

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