One by one, service members from all branches took an urn Tuesday afternoon and carried the remains of 17 unclaimed Southern Nevada veterans to their resting place.
With a final salute, they were laid to rest at the Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Boulder City. For some, it was a military service more than 25 years in the making.
“We’ve got these 17 great warriors in front of us, and nobody has claimed them. There’s got to be something wrong with that,” said Retired Marine Corps. Gen. Emil “Buck” Bedard.
“It’s a great tribute that we, collectively, have claimed them as their own. And we’re here today to do that. And to tell them we care about what they did, their service to our country.”
The remains of the veterans of World Wars I and II, the Cold War, the Korean War and the Vietnam War — all of whom made it home alive — had been in funeral homes for years after not being claimed by relatives. They were escorted to the cemetery by the Patriot Guard Riders of Southern Nevada on Tuesday.
Often, funeral homes do not know if the deceased are veterans, so volunteers from Missing In Nevada work with mortuaries to retrieve names, determine if those left behind served in the military and then help arrange the burial ceremonies.
It took the longest for the burial of World War II Army veteran Louis Esposito, who died in 1992. Seven more recently deceased veterans were expected to be buried Thursday morning.
The memorial service was sponsored by Women Veterans of Nevada. In June and October 2018, the first 47 unclaimed veterans were buried at the Boulder City cemetery in similar events.
Since 2009, 248 veterans who were unclaimed have been buried in Northern Nevada, according to retired Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Bobi Oates. There are an estimated 10,000-plus unclaimed sets of remains in the state, many of which are believed to be those of military veterans.
“Amazing Grace” was played on bagpipes by members of the Scottish-American Military Society as they made their way to the grave plots and the Disabled American Veterans Black Mountain Chapter 12 honor guard set off a three-volley salute.
The veterans buried Tuesday came from Pahrump Family Mortuary and Desert Memorial Cremation & Burial in Las Vegas.
“These ceremonies are always special; we’re making up for lost time,” said retired Sgt. 1st Class Fred Wagar, deputy director of the Nevada Department of Veterans Services. “They’ve been sitting on a shelf for far too long.”
As American flags flapped violently in the wind, urns were lowered into their resting places.
Cynthia Man, whose uncle died in World War II and was buried abroad, played military hymns on the flute. Her uncle did not receive a proper burial at home until decades later. She played the same tunes at her father’s funeral in 2015; he was an Army sergeant in the Korean War.
Before a prayer, Chaplain Troy Dandrea from the Nevada Army National Guard had a few words.
“This is a sweet reflection of how we honor our veterans, and the way to honor these men, is to live alive, now,” he said.