Written by Greg Bennett Friday, 21 January 2011 00:00
(Editor’s Note: Greg Bennett is the commander of Charles Wagner American Legion Post 421 in Hicksville.)
On Saturday, Jan. 8 a magnificently patriotic event was held at Calverton National Cemetery.
Twenty military veterans, who perhaps died alone and forgotten, were finally buried with full military honors at Calverton. Their remains were located in the New York City Coroner’s Office and potters fields. They were forgotten and unclaimed until their brother and sister veterans came to bring them home to eternal rest beside their comrades in a national cemetery.
This national project is called Missing In America Project (MIAP). This is gaining momentum across America. The MIAP on Jan. 8 was organized by John Caldarelli of American Legion Post 1244 and Dignity Memorial Funeral Homes.
All levels of government, veterans groups and businesses are assisting locating the unclaimed remains or cremations of veterans. Once identified as a veteran, the remains are buried with full military honors in a National Cemetery. On Jan. 8, the remains of 20 veterans were identified in New York City and brought to Calverton in a mile-long funeral motorcade from Queens.
The New York City Police, Nassau County Police Highway Patrol, Suffolk County Sheriffs and Suffolk County Police escorted the funeral procession. Long Island Expressway entrances were sealed off by police officers who stood at attention and saluted when the procession passed. Along the shoulders of the expressway citizens held American flags and placed their hands over their hearts.
On the Long Island Expressway overpasses, volunteer firefighters draped huge American flags suspended from hook and ladders. At each overpass hundreds of firefighters dressed in their fire gear stood at attention and saluted when the procession passed.
Outside the National Cemetery, the motorcade was greeted by a spectacle that may never be seen again. Over 1,000 firefighters and hundreds of apparatus lined both sides of the road in a grand salute. Everyone in the motorcade looked up to see 25 huge American flags suspended from hook and ladders. Some people were brought to tears, but they were likely tears of joy for America and her veterans.
The funeral procession was led into the cemetery by New York City Fire Department Pipers followed by 200 Patriot Guard Riders on foot each carrying an American flag. The 20 Dignity Memorial hearses stopped at a traffic circle next to a huge tent that would hold 400 veterans and guests for the memorial service. Military Honor Guards carried each flag draped casket into the tent. About 1,000 veterans, auxiliary members, firefighters, police, Civil Air Patrol members and patriots lined the traffic circle and saluted each time a casket was brought into the large tent.
The memorial service included an Invocation, Pledge of Allegiance, God Bless America and guest speakers, including Representative Tim Bishop, Representative Steve Israel and Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy. New York City Veterans Affairs Commissioner Terrance C. Holliday and Chris Marsh of Dignity Memorial also addressed the assembly. All legislators spoke about ending homelessness and unemployment among veterans.
The memorial service continued with a eulogy and then Firing of the Volleys by the U.S. Volunteers. Louis DiLeo then sounded Taps. The Military Honor Guards then approached the 20 caskets to fold and present the U.S. flags covering each. The service concluded with a Benediction by American Legion Post 1244 Chaplain Al Shaw followed by Closing Remarks by Michael G. Picerno, director of Calverton National Cemetery. Greg Bennett represented Post 421 at the memorial service.
The 20 heroes who were buried with full military honors were:
Alston H. Anderson, USA
Rafael Arroyo, USA
Barry Carl Brooks, USAF
John Cronin, USAF
Donald DeGault, USA
Clifford Henry, USN
Henry Hightower, USA
Frederick Hunter, USA
Theodore Jackson, USA
Miguel Lugo, USA
Myron Sanford Mabry, USN
Thomas Miller, USA
Michael Nardi, USMC
Ernest M. Nichols, USA
Charles Nicholson, USMC
John Palazzo, USA
Robert Prioleau, USA
James Rose, USA
Robert Thompson, USAF
Steven Wrighton, USA
The Missing In America Project reports that 29 remains of veterans are still held at the New York City Coroners Office awaiting burial. Another 10 remains have been identified as veterans. New York City funeral homes are checking to see if any of 3,000 remains in storage are those of veterans. In Nassau County Legionnaires Andy Booth of Levittown and Greg Bennett of Hicksville have gathered information to initiate a Missing In America Project.