Grand Island, NE -
The Missing in America Project’s mission is to give the unclaimed remains of veterans a proper military burial. The Nebraska chapter of the project did that for four men and one woman on Friday with a procession from Omaha to Maxwell.
It’s a 265 mile trip for many of the motorcycle riders escorting the remains, but for the MIAP’s volunteer coordinators, it’s the final leg of a months long journey with the five “forgotten soldiers.”
“Tried to get everything lined up, make sure everything is right so that we can give these veterans their flag, their 21 gun salute, and the honor and dignity that they should have had a long time ago,” says coordinator Bill Henry.
Volunteers first try to find family members to claim a veteran’s cremated remains, but if they can’t, the non-profit pays for a funeral at a national cemetery. In Nebraska’s case at Ft. McPherson near Maxwell.
“They’ve become either indigent or fall out of grace with family, but we’re their family now, we take custody of them, we take responsibility for them,” says coordinator Larry Schaber.
In just over a year of work in Nebraska, Schaber and Henry have reunited about 15 people with family and will have buried nine.
On Friday, they escorted their first female veteran – Hazel Wood, a US Army WAC member during World War II, whom Henry says was part of Japanese occupation forces. They also escorted Floyd Emil Johnson, US Army, who served in Korea; Gary L. Hirschman, USMC, who served in Vietnam; Charles Warner, US Army, who served in Vietnam; and Reginal Thomas Prim, US Navy, who served in Vietnam.
Volunteers say that for them it becomes more than just names, dates, and a ceremony.
“We care for them, even though we don’t personally know them, we still consider them our brothers and sisters,” says Henry.
“It’s very, very emotional for us, it’s like putting our own family members to rest,” says Schaber.
But the coordinators don’t have to do it alone, thanks to Patriot Guard riders and law enforcement escorts.
“A lot of people show up and that’s good, it just shows that Nebraskans care and that fellow vets care and that’s what it’s all about,” says Schaber.
By using the Ft. McPherson National Cemetery, Henry says that if they do find a veteran’s family later, the family can then claim the remains and have them buried elsewhere. He says the Missing in America Project helps with those expenses too.