Group works to give proper burials to veterans, including Fayette County residents
National cemeteries are available to provide a final resting place for those who have served the United States. But some of those who served end up cremated and placed in a pauper's grave or on a shelf in a funeral home when their remains are not claimed.
The nonprofit Missing In America Project is spearheading the effort to have veterans' remains interred “with honor, respect and dignity,” according to a pamphlet published by the organization.
Work has begun in Fayette County.
The first ceremony was held on Aug. 23, 2012, when the unclaimed remains of 14 veterans and one spouse were interred in the National Cemetery of the Alleghenies near Bridgeville in Washington County.
This week, veterans John Patrick Cassidy Jr. and Roscoe J. Johnson Jr., both of Fayette County, were buried with full military honors in the same cemetery.
The organization's work is far from complete in Western Pennsylvania.
John Fabry, a funeral director at Goldsboro-Tomi Funeral Home in Fairchance, who is the Pennsylvania state coordinator for MIAP, and Lanny Golden, assistant Pennsylvania state coordinator, have started to contact funeral directors in Westmoreland, Washington and Allegheny counties.
They believe there could be more than 250 veterans among the unclaimed remains in Allegheny County funeral homes. They are asking for volunteers to help in the search. They attempt to identify all cremated remains, or cremains, and check with the Veterans Administration to see whether any are veterans. If they are, the remains may be buried in a national cemetery.
Spouses may be eligible to be buried with the veterans. The VA will provide the burial plot and may pay for the casket or urn and transportation to the burial site.
Golden, a Vietnam veteran who earned a Purple Heart for his service there, began volunteering for MIAP six years ago when he found information online.
“I thought maybe I could do something,” Golden said.
He and other volunteers began checking funeral homes in the Fayette County area.
Golden said the group is seeking volunteers to help with the search in Allegheny County and other areas in the state.
An uphill battle
Some funeral directors have declined to allow access to their unclaimed remains. Fabry said they might be worried about the legality of releasing the unclaimed remains for burial.
However, Act 101 of 2012 — sponsored by state Rep. Deberah Kula, a Democrat who represents parts of Fayette and Westmoreland counties — absolves the funeral homes from liability.
The funeral directors might be concerned about the cost of the burials.
Fabry said under a federal law that took effect on Jan. 10, the VA is authorized to pay for an urn or casket and funds to cover the cost to transport the remains to the cemetery.
Tuesdays burials were the first in the state to take place under the new law.
Stephen Slater of the Stephen D. Slater Funeral Home in Jefferson Hills said he has only one unclaimed veteran. He said he plans to provide a proper burial.
“Ultimately, that's what we do every day, anyway,” he said during a meeting with Fabry and Golden in his facility in Jefferson Hills.
Fabry said there are several hundred unclaimed remains held by Allegheny County Medical Examiner's Office. He said the volunteers are working on remains that are 2 years old. They get as much information as they can from the records, then send the information to the Veterans Administration for verification. If they are veterans and left the service with other than dishonorable discharges, they are eligible.
Mike Chichwak, who is in charge of the program for Allegheny County Medical Examiner Karl Williams, said he estimates he has sent Fabry information on about 25 percent of the remains.
“When I have the opportunity, I think I have probably 50 names so far in the next batch,” Chichwak said, adding that he did not know how long it would take the MIAP volunteers and the VA to sort out the veterans.Chichwak said he and Williams want to work with MIAP so that the veterans can be properly buried.
A growing problem
Chichwak believes the problem of unclaimed remains is growing in Allegheny County.
“The unclaimed cases seem to be growing every year,” he said. “Last year, there were 60 that we had cremated.”
One problem remains. There have been mass burials of unclaimed remains by the medical examiner's office in the past.
No one knows how many of those buried were veterans. Fabry and Golden were hopeful of eventually going back through those records.
While it probably would not be possible to move those remains to the National Cemetery of the Alleghenies, Golden believes a marker could be placed at the mass burial site with the names of the veterans listed. Chichwak agreed that that might be possible.
Karl Polacek is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com or 724-626-3538.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Connellsville area poverty simulation opens people’s eyes
- Connellsville considers axing paid firefighters
- 3 men to stand trial over runaway Latrobe foster children
- Albert Gallatin bus driver pleads guilty to sexual assault
- Longtime Connellsville area business closes its doors
- Fayette jail foes want county to be stricken as intervenor in case
- Connellsville Health Board airs ordinance issues
- Breakneck Church to hold flea market, bake sale
- Belle Vernon man accused of providing cocaine to teens
- Connellsville theater group ready to ‘Make a Deal’
- Fayette Friends of Animals volunteer uses talent to help get her shelter animals adopted