They were once forgotten, but never again.
On Wednesday, the ashes of 106 veterans unclaimed by their families were brought to their final resting place at the Washington State Veterans Cemetery in Medical Lake.
“People go unclaimed for various reasons,” said Rob Goff, CEO of the Washington State Funeral Directors Association, during Wednesday’s ceremony. “Sometimes it’s just too hard for families to come back, too physically painful for them to return to the funeral home and pick up their loved ones. Sometimes there’s just nobody left.”
Some fought in Vietnam, in World War II and as far back as the Spanish-American War. Nearly half, 43, served in World War I. They included Carl Croson, who served in the Army in World War I, and his son Kenneth, who served in the United States Coast Guard in World War II.
They were accompanied by 27 spouses and children of veterans who were also eligible to be buried in the cemetery.
Three children of veterans were infants who died too young to have been given a name. Four members of the Sutherland family were brought to be interred Wednesday, including a veteran, his wife and child, and a brother who also served.
Myra Kinzie died 110 years ago this month. Her husband, John Kinzie, was a veteran of the Indian Wars who died in 1914, two years after his wife, and was laid to rest in Medical Lake just five years ago. For more than a century, their remains had sat unclaimed in separate funeral homes. Now, for the first time since Myra’s death, they are together again.
Some arrived in engraved cedar or oak boxes, others in ornate ceramic packaged in Styrofoam for transportation. At least one had been stored in a plastic bag.
Their ashes will be placed among the cemetery’s thousands of niches where cremated remains are interred.
All 133 of them made their final journey from funeral homes in Western Washington. They were escorted across the state by members the Patriot Guard Riders of Washington, a group of motorcyclists that provides support during funeral services for fallen military members.
It is the end of a decadeslong wait for the veterans and their families, and a two-year effort by members of the Missing In America Project, a nonprofit that works to identify and inter the cremated remains of American veterans.
The Washington branch of the Missing In America Project, a six-person team, combed through a list of more than 3,700 names of unclaimed remains stored at the Evergreen Washelli facility, which is owned by Service Corporation International.
The team checked names against genealogical websites, state archives, census records, all to try to determine if they had served in the U.S. military. There can be tremendous hurdles to confirming that a person was not only a veteran, but one who served honorably and is eligible for military burial, said Lynn Lake, the assistant state coordinator for the Washington branch of the Missing In America Project .
Sometimes the names are misspelled or there was no death date listed, only the date their remains arrived at the funeral home. Some funeral homes can be resistant to the project’s research due to privacy and liability concerns, Lake said, although Service Corporation International was eager to partner with them.
Then Missing In America Project has to identify a national or state veterans cemetery that will take the remains and apply to confirm their eligibility. While the Tahoma National Cemetery was closer to the Seattle funeral home, the state veterans cemetery in Medical Lake has been more easily able to accommodate large groups, said Tom Keating, Washington state coordinator for the organization.
In 2020, the unclaimed remains of 1,752 veterans were buried in 150 veterans cemeteries across the United States, according to reporting by The Washington Post.
Many more remain to be found, Lake said.
“It feels good that we finally got here, because it’s taken a long time to get this process through,” she said.
“But there’s a lot of mixed emotions, because I know how many are still waiting.”