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After long wait, unclaimed remains of military veterans find their final resting place

A U.S. Marine honor guard performs a flag-folding ceremony Thursday during a memorial service for 70 military members whose remains were cremated and never claimed at the Washington State Veterans Cemetery. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
A U.S. Marine honor guard performs a flag-folding ceremony Thursday during a memorial service for 70 military members whose remains were cremated and never claimed at the Washington State Veterans Cemetery. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

Dozens of veterans were interred in their final resting place Thursday, decades after their deaths.

The unclaimed ashes of soldiers, Marines, sailors and airmen were given proper military burials at the Washington State Veterans Cemetery, their remains placed in handmade wooden urns and tucked into a stone shrine.

As each name and military branch was read aloud during the sunny ceremony in Medical Lake, veterans and officials carried each urn to its final destination.

Each had been promised burial when they took their oath of service, but because they were unclaimed by family members after their deaths, their remains were stored in funeral homes and basements.

John Cecil Eberly, a Civil War infantryman from Philadelphia, was interred Thursday alongside his wife, Martha, and son Austin Eberly, a World War I veteran.

Kenneth M. Manning, a WWII airman who died in 1972, was also among the group of 23 veterans whose remains were found in the Spokane area. The rest were escorted from Yakima.

Preceding a 21-gun salute, Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs director Lourdes E. Alvarado-Ramos said she felt proud to see these men and women finally get their proper burial.

“They expected to get a military burial and recognition by their government for their commitment to their country,” Alvarado-Ramos said. “Instead, they resided on a shelf, a mortuary, a coroner’s office, somebody’s attic, closet or facility of cremation.”

“It is sad that we have to do this, but it is sweet to bring our veterans home,” she added.

Rick Valentine, a 68-year-old Spokane man, has spearheaded the local movement to make sure the unclaimed remains of veterans get proper burials.

In October, Valentine helped 13 veterans reach their final resting place. He’s also helped connect family members to the last remains.

“We have been working on this batch (of veterans) for almost two years,” said Valentine, a retired Rosauers employee. “I think this is a marvelous thing. These men and women all deserve the right burial for their service to this country.”

Spokane Mayor David Condon, a military veteran himself, recognized Valentine’s efforts Thursday by presenting him with the mayor’s coin.

“This is near and dear to my heart,” Condon said. “We must continue to support active service members, veterans and their families – this includes helping our heroes reach their final resting place.”