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Family of U.S. veteran ‘devastated’ by burial rejection

Updated December 3, 2023 - 9:00 am

Sisters Lynne Mowers and Kathy Mitchell flew across the country in October to attend a funeral for their parents at the Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Boulder City.

Weeks earlier, officials had approved the burial of U.S. Army and Reserve veteran Charles Paul Conner and his wife Agnes on Oct. 18. The sisters had ordered a “Faith & Prayer” praying hands emblem, the inscription “Wind Beneath My Wings” and birth and death dates for their parents’ internment marker.

But a day before the scheduled burial, Mowers, who had traveled to Las Vegas from New York, received a call from Alexander Keeling, an administrator with the Nevada Department of Veterans Service, who said her parents could not be buried at the veterans cemetery after all.

“They didn’t bother to call us until less than 24 hours before we were supposed to have the funeral,” Mowers said. “By this point I’d already flown all the way across the country with my sister, to the one sister (Marcia) that we have that lives in Nevada. My dad’s sister and her family, they were all coming to the funeral. Everything was set. Yep. They sent us the information. So, what do you want on a headstone when I double checked? They’re like, yes, mom can be on there. Her date can be on there, too.”

Mowers, her sisters and other relatives were “devastated” by the rejection and “no one in my family can believe the way the we have been treated” and feel “completely disrespected by the military and the cemetery staff,” she said.

Conner, who died on Aug. 19 at 84, served as a private and completed six months of active duty training, including as a military policeman, at Fort Gordon, Ga. from 1957 to 1958 when he was released to the U.S. Army Reserve to complete his remaining service obligation of six years and two months, according to a copy of his form DD-214 military record.

Then Agnes Conner, 77, died on Sept. 11 and Mowers said she asked and received permission from the cemetery to bury her remains along with those of her husband, as is a common practice for American veteran burials.

Keeling, who originally handled their bid to bury the cremains at the cemetery, could not be reached for comment.

Under the rules of burial eligibility for military veterans at a U.S. Veterans Administration national cemetery, Conner did not serve long enough to warrant internment at the Boulder City graveyard, according Terri Hendry, communications director of the state Department of Veterans Services.

In an email sent to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Hendry was contrite, saying “we want the family of Mr. and Mrs. Conner to know how deeply sorry we are for the distress caused to the family during their time of bereavement.”

“Unfortunately, when the initial arrangements were made for the internments for Mr. and Mrs. Conner at the Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery, the process failed to discover Mr. Conner’s ineligibility for burial at the veterans cemetery,” she wrote.

Before the scheduled burial, a second review of Conner’s record revealed he was not qualified, Hendry stated.

“Regarding eligibility, a veteran in the Reserve is eligible if they die on active duty, active-duty training, inactive duty for training, or retiring with 20 or more years of service as a Reservist,” she wrote.

“While Mr. Conner honorably served in the Reserve back in 1957-58, he just recently passed and therefore did not meet eligibility requirements,” she stated.

For Mowers, after what she and her relatives have been through, that explanation is of no comfort.

“I think it’s a crock of crap,” she said. “I don’t care how long you’re a Reservist. You signed up, you served, you were paid by the government, you were at that point. Had you been called in? You would have dropped your entire life and gone to do whatever they needed no matter what, whether you were a Reservist for one year, 15 years or 27.5 years, doesn’t matter. That’s what bothers us.”

So, meanwhile, Mowers and family have made the arrangements to bury her parents at a date to be set in the spring, at St. Mary’s, a Roman Catholic cemetery in Canton, NY.

Mowers stated in an email that she had not heard lately from a representative of the cemetery nor from Hendry.

“I was thinking I’d reach out to her (Hendry) but decided it would just make my blood pressure higher than it needs to be, so I’m not going to reach out to her,” she wrote.

Contact Jeff Burbank at jburbank@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0382. Follow him @JeffBurbank2 on X.

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