One of the symbolic images of Veterans Day is the American flag flying next to the grave of a fallen soldier.
When they pass away, it’s traditional for veterans to receive a proper burial with full military honors, but not all are afforded that right. You could call them forgotten warriors.
500 miles north of the Las Vegas Strip, in the small town of Winnemucca, you’ll find a funeral home that holds a secret.
“They’ve been sitting here since the funeral home took care of them.”
The cremated remains of veterans have been sitting in a basement closet for years. One has been there for nearly three decades.
The remains include those of dozens of veterans who served in Vietnam, Korea, and one on the beaches of Normandy.
We have no pictures and know little about them. Most have no family to claim their remains, which are housed inside metal boxes.
Funeral home manager Mark Anderson helped indentify the men by sifting through boxes containing dusty records.
“Generally on death certificate, it indicates whether they served in the military. A lot of times there’s discharge paperwork or discharge certificates.”
These forgotten warriors are forgotten no more. A non-profit called the Missing in America Project is giving them the proper burial they earned.
The group calls funeral homes across the country looking for the remains of unclaimed veterans.
Recently, members of the group braved bitter cold and rain to drive to a veterans’ cemetery in Fernley, NV, where the fallen heroes were honored by living ones, among them, Dorothy Minor, the director of the Missing in America Project.
“I feel like I know these men.”
After finding their remains, Minor located family for some of the men, but not all. Seven veterans plus one spouse were unclaimed.
“They become part of your family and it’s kind of like you’re burying part of your family.”
So far, Minor and the Nevada chapter of Missing in American have held services for 13 veterans.
Project members say their goal is to not get to this point. Currently, they’re lobbying states across the country, Nevada included, to pass laws which would give them access to a person’s information after they die to determine if that person was a veteran.
Veteran Fred Salanti founded the Missing in American project four years ago.
“75 percent of coroners and medical examiners never check to see if the person was a veteran.”
Dorothy Minor says she’ll soon turn her attention to funeral homes in Las Vegas.