A dozen veterans and one military spouse were laid to rest Tuesday long after their deaths, thanks to newfound “family” members who determined their unclaimed remains were entitled to be buried at the Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Boulder City.
“We all remember the military recruiters saying, ‘If you sign up, we’ll take care of you the rest of your life.’ In fact, this event is providing that last step,” Fred Wagar, deputy director of the Nevada Department of Veterans Services, said at a Tuesday memorial service. “We say to them, ‘Welcome home. You are no longer missing.’ ”
The remains of the veterans of World Wars I and II, 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.
After a brief memorial service, 12 members of an honor guard lifted the urns containing their ashes and carried them to their final resting place, where grave markers bearing their names awaited.
The last urn in the procession contained the ashes of Lillian Lazzar, the spouse of Navy veteran Walter Lazzar.
Wagar said that Lillian Lazzar was eligible for military burial, because “we know that spouses serve our country as well, by supporting their veterans.”
It took the longest for the burial of Army veteran Lyle Prescott, who died in 1948.
“He spent 70 years sitting on a shelf?” said 82-year-old Navy veteran Peggy Randle, wondering out loud how that could be. “A lot of us attend military funerals every week. Before this, these guys didn’t have anybody to claim them.”
The memorial service — the second in Southern Nevada and the 14th of its kind in the state — was sponsored by the Disabled American Veterans, Black Mountain, Chapter 12.
In June, the 35 unclaimed veterans were buried at the Boulder City cemetery in a similar event organized by Missing in Nevada, a mission of the Nevada Veterans Coalition.
Kat Miller, the director of the Nevada Department of Veterans Affairs, said that there are an estimated 10,000 plus unclaimed remains in the state, many of which are believed to be those of military veterans.
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’s a daunting task when you have so many remains that go unclaimed, but to have these volunteers to identify our veterans and then notify us is really amazing. It’s a community upbringing,” Miller said.
“And for whatever reason, they were not claimed by family. So, we’re their family.”
After the urns were carefully placed beneath their grave markers on Tuesday, bagpipes played as the Nevada Patriot Guard Riders carrying American flags arrayed themselves around the burial plot. Veterans donning purple shirts and hats identifying them as “Purple Heart” recipients followed suit.
As the flags swayed in the wind, the honor guard members lowered the urns into their final resting places. Then Chaplain Danny McDonald read the closing prayer.
“Surely, goodness and mercy shall follow me for all the days of my life,” he said. “And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Amen.”
Unclaimed but not forgotten
Those honored Tuesday at Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery:
— Kenneth Ambler (1939-2007) US Air Force 1961-1965; Vietnam.
— Anthony Apruzzese (1950-2008) US Army 1968-1968; Vietnam.
— Charles Hueneke (1899-1986), Navy 1942-1942; WWII.
— Charles Iten (1915-1988), Army 1942-1946; WWII.
— Lawrence Joyce (1926-2008), Army 1944-1946; WWII.
— Willie Kauwalu (1928-2007), Army/USMC, 1945-1960; WWII.
— Walter Lazzars (1919-1995) Navy 1942-1945; WWII.
— Lillian Lazzars (1919-2005), wife of Walter Lazzars.
— John Mullen (1927-1994), Army 1948-1952; Korea.
— Lyle Prescott (1892-1948), Army 1918-1919; WWI.
— Raymond Reed (1934-1986), Navy 1952-1974; Korea/Vietnam.
— Alejandro Saez (1938-2010), Army 1963-1965; Vietnam.
— Charles Teneyck (1914-1991), Army 1942-1946; WWII.