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Proper Military Burial For More Than 50 Veterans

Booth: Long Island's largest unclaimed

veteran cremain burial service

On Saturday, May 19, Long Island veteran organizations and funeral homes are set to give proper military burials to more than 50 unclaimed veterans’ cremated remains.

The funeral procession will assemble near exit 49 on the Long Island Expressway at 8 a.m. on Armed Forces Day and travel to Long Island National Cemetery at 2040 Wellwood Avenue in Farmingdale, led by Patriot Guard and Legion Riders for a 9 a.m. military honors burial service.

Nassau County Commander of the American Legion Andrew Booth said this is possibly the largest unclaimed veterans service to be performed. The remains of each veteran will be placed in niches on a recently built columbarium at Long Island National with proper identification, in case of a future retrieval request.

“For years the funeral parlors, the law said after 120 days, they could do what they want with the remains. Thank God for the common sense of some of these funeral directors; they hung onto them [the cremains], in their basements,” Booth said. “The thought maybe someday someone will come to retrieve them.”

And someone did. Booth said as he began to hear more rumors about possibly hundreds of unclaimed veteran cremains sitting in tin cans, on mortuary basement shelves on Long Island, he decided to ask Beth Dalton, of Thomas F. Dalton Funeral Homes in Levittown if there were veteran remains in Levittown. His search and planning for this event has taken almost two years.

Dalton put her team on the trail to inventory the unclaimed cremains in their custody. To everyone’s surprise, the Levittown (and Hicksville) mortuary had approximately 10 honorably discharged veterans, unclaimed, one having served in World War I, and some remains that have been in their care since the 1970s.

Dalton and Booth wondered how many there could be on Long Island. Dalton contacted the funeral directors from the local association of funeral directors and uncovered a growing list of unclaimed veterans, each deserving proper military burials.

These cremains are not from deaths related to war. These are local residents who have died and were cremated. Families can have the remains placed at national cemeteries. Dalton said that for unknown reasons many families to do not come back to claim the funeral remains or make a decision with what to do with the ashes.

Dalton said most families that know that cremation is the best decision for their family, but she said, “They don’t think about the next step, what to do with the ashes.” She said they really encourage families to make the second-part of a cremation decision. Dalton said there are cases when families do come back a year or two later to claim the remains.

Dalton hopes that next-of-kin, and friends of these unclaimed veterans see the names, or hear the story of these unclaimed veterans and come forward, make the connection to a “lost relative” to help give the proper burial on May 19.

Two participating funeral homes have shared the names of veterans in their custody, to be buried.

The Thomas F. Dalton Funeral Homes in Levittown provided the following names of their unclaimed veteran cremains:

John Albert Allen, Sgt US Army
David Karpiloff, CM2 US Navy
Steve Plish, Lt. Col. US Army
Albert Severinsen, US Army Aircorp
Gilbert Elmore, US Army
James Joseph Flynn, US Navy
William Melis, Pvt. US Army
Malcolm McGuire, Pvt. US Army
Everett Sierk, Pvt. 1st Class, Army Nat. Guard
Helen Panzer, wife of US Navy veteran Jack Panzer

Martin Kohler of Nolan & Taylor-Howe Funeral Home in Northport provided the following names of their unclaimed cremains:

George Carling, US Coast Guard WWI
David L. Dickson, US Army WWI
John D. Mainwaring, US Air Force WWII
Thomas H. Johnson, US army Air Corp WWII
Thomas H. Price, Jr., US Navy Korea
Roger F. Pola, Army Vietnam

It has not been confirmed yet, but one unclaimed veteran, in the care of Jacobsen Funeral Home in Huntington, may have served in the Spanish American War of 1898.

According to the National Registry of Funeral Directors, New York State allows unclaimed cremated remains to be placed in a tomb, mausoleum, crypt, niche in a columbarium, or to be buried in a cemetery, or scattered at sea, but not before 120 days after cremation. Permanent records must be kept by the funeral homes of the disposition of the remains.

The New York State Funeral Directors Association (NYSFDA) briefed more than 400 funeral directors from throughout the state regarding the details of a law, which allowed for the interment of veterans’ unclaimed cremains. The law went into effect on Nov. 11, 2010 – Veterans’ Day – providing the flexibility and liability protections necessary for funeral directors and veterans’ organizations alike to carry out a proper burial.

NYSFDA worked in partnership with the state’s Veteran Recovery Program / Patriot Guard Riders to shepherd the bill through the state legislature and into law.

Additionally, legislation (S2515-2011) to authorize the Division of Veterans’ Affairs to provide for the interment of the unclaimed remains of veterans had been amended by the state senate in 2011. Cooperation with all local veteran organizations was added to the law, to determine the validity of veteran status, and to determine the scope of the issue with the abundant unclaimed remains.

The law was written into effect because too often, the cremated remains of veterans have been left to sit on shelves of mortuaries.

The New York State Senate included this statement in the justification of the bill, “This practice is most inappropriate considering their heroic service to our country. This legislation would ensure that the unclaimed remains of our service men and women will be rightfully interred with the dignity they deserve.”

The laws regulating funeral homes’ obligation to unclaimed cremains varies from state to state; 13 states, such as Maryland and Nevada, don’t have laws governing unclaimed remains. There are 19,903 funeral homes in the U.S. according to the National Funeral Directors Association, and nearly all of them have unclaimed cremated remains.

Since 2009, a national organization called MIAP (Missing in America Project) has been diligently working with funeral directors and veteran organizations to identify unclaimed veterans remains and ensure a proper military burial is performed.

MIAP’s mission statement includes, “We are a diverse group truly dedicated to locating, identifying and arranging for the interment of our forgotten veterans, those who have been left to reside on mortuary shelves, storage units and crematoriums.”

The project volunteers assist with researching the cremains, those which have passed the legal requirements of custody at the funeral homes, verifying military information, discharge papers, and other legal documents. Veterans must have served and been honorably discharged from their military service to earn proper military burials. MIAP helps to prove their eligibility with Veteran Affairs (VA) for proper burial.

Since 2009, MIAP has visited more than 2,242 funeral homes across the nation. The project volunteers have located 13,800 cremains in total. Of the cremains located, 1,898 were identified at eligible veterans, and 1,631 have been interred properly.

Chris Marsh, director of corporate alliances, Dignity Memorial Funeral Homes, a New York volunteer for MIAP said, “Thanks to the many dedicated volunteers in the Long Island community, the final mission for our brother and sister soldiers will now be completed. Go and rest in peace.”

For more information about MIAP visit: http://www.