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Remains of 26 unclaimed vets receive proper burial in Cecil cemetary

| Thursday, May 15, 2014, 10:30 p.m.

For four years, their remains sat unclaimed, awaiting mass burial.

On Thursday, a team of volunteers buried 26 veterans with military honors in the National Cemetery of the Alleghenies in Cecil.

“We have some veterans that have passed that are finally getting the proper send-off that they should have gotten a long time ago. To stand there looking at those urns just brings tears to my eyes,” said Carl Mochak, 67, a Vietnam veteran and chaplain for VFW Post 5758 in Tarentum.

About 250 unclaimed bodies had been under the care of the Allegheny County Medical Examiner's Office, but John Fabry, Pennsylvania coordinator of the Missing in America Project, suspected that some were veterans entitled to military funerals.

“Once you find an individual is a veteran, you feel bad,” Fabry told the Trib last week. “Here's a person who served his country, and now nobody wants to give him a proper burial.”

The Missing in America Project says on its website that it has visited 1,560 funeral homes, identified the cremated remains of 2,144 people as those of veterans and buried 1,882 of them.

The ceremony on Thursday started with a procession leaving the Pittsburgh Institute of Mortuary Science on Baum Boulevard in East Liberty. It reached the national military cemetery about an hour later.

The veterans represented all branches of the military except the Coast Guard. Most died after 2010.

“In retrospect, it's a sad day, of course, for many of the family members, but it's also the job that we do,” said Bill McClements, 68, of Murrysville, a member of the funeral detail representing the Three Rivers Leatherneck Detachment of the Marine Corps League.

“Leave no man behind, or woman,” said Steve Hloznik, 68, of Tarentum, memorial unit chairman for the Tarentum VFW post.

Trib Total Media staff photographer Stephanie Strasburg contributed to this report.

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