Veterans receive final burial honor
A U.S. Marine carries the cremains of a veteran found through the Missing in America project at the Washington State Veterans Cemetery in Medical Lake.
Unclaimed veterans remains received a final display of honor as they were buried at the Washington State Veterans Cemetery in Medical Lake last Thursday, Sept. 19.
A total of 50 veterans’ remains were laid to rest at the cemetery’s columbarium wall, with eight being placed prior to the Thursday ceremony. Of the 70 to 80 in attendance that afternoon, many were members of the Patriot Guard Riders, Combat Veterans Association, state government representatives and members of the public.
“In life, our veterans honored the flag,” chaplain Lt. Richard Mcguire said. “In death, the flag honors them.”
The Missing in America program started in 2006, under guidance from former cemetery director Richard Cesler and sought to reach out to funeral homes across the state to locate veterans remains that, for whatever reason, were left unclaimed. If veterans’ remains are unclaimed after 90 days, under the program a funeral home can call and have them transported to the cemetery. Prior to the program’s creation, funeral homes faced a fee if they wished to transfer the remains to a veterans cemetery.
The cemetery investigates each set of remains to ensure they’re veterans, going the extra mile by looking outside of federal branches and even going through family history sites like Ancestry.com to check for military service.
Larry Griffith, Northeast District Captain of the Washington State Patriot Guard Riders, said the ceremony marks the end of a long year of working with funeral homes across the state to bring veterans remains to the cemetery. The group has traveled as far as Tacoma to pick up cremains after they’ve been properly identified.
“This marks the end of a long year of work,” Griffith said.
For some members of the group, taking part in the memorial ceremony is pretty emotional. Memories of serving in combat come back to life, and can be rather haunting. A number of the group’s members took part in the ceremony.
Griffith said his group is ready and willing to lend a hand when the next set of veterans are ready for transport.
“There are hundreds just like them waiting to be brought home,” he said. “We’re waiting for that next phone call and we’ll do our thing.”
Spokane resident Michael Ross handcrafted the 50 urns used during the ceremony. He saw a newscast a couple of years ago, and saw them with a plain cardboard box, unfitting for their veteran status.
It takes an average of three days to build each urn, which uses purpleheart wood. When cut, the wood darkens to a deep purple color, which Ross compared to the Purple Heart award given out to wounded military servicemen. Ross is able to obtain the wood from local companies, who are understanding of its final purpose.
Ross said he built the urns not out of any place of pride, but simply to help serve and make a difference for those who served their country. And, he plans to continue providing his skills as long as he’s needed.
“As long as they keep bringing them, I’ll keep building them,” he said.
Members of all branches of the armed forces as well as Patriot Guard Riders placed veterans’ remains in the columbarium.
Spokane resident Sarah Bennett provided music on the harp before the ceremony and also sang the national anthem.
James Eik can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.