By Michael Isam
St. Augustine, Fla. – Cremains found on closet shelf
A man answers his phone to hear his daughter say, “Dad, I’m cleaning out a shed and I just found a bag containing the cremains of a Veteran and his wife. It has been here for a long time. What do I do?”
The above is a story shared by Kathy Church, the FL State Coordinator for the Missing In America Project (MIAP) during a presentation before the Veterans Council of St. Johns County and other such organizations. It gets worse.
According to information on the MIAP organization website, volunteers have visited more than 2,700 funeral homes and found over 16,000 cremains with 3500 in one institution and more than 2,000 between two funeral homes in Missouri. They have identified 2,044 cremains and interred over 1800 Veterans and family members.
The mission statement for MIAP states “The purpose of the MIA Project is to locate, identify, and inter the unclaimed cremated remains of American Veterans through the joint efforts of private, state, and federal organizations. To provide honor and respect to those who have served this country by securing a final resting place for these forgotten heroes.”
I caught Church for a phone interview between getting repairs on her car and just before she was scheduled to run to another meeting.
According to Church, “While the numbers are not as bleak here in Northeast Florida as they are nationwide, they are still somewhat shocking.” She adds “In one funeral home alone, there are 12 locations used to store items. In those locations are 588 unclaimed cremains.” Not all are Veterans or family members of Veterans.
“It is a slow process.” said Church. “Before we can do anything, we have to have permission from a funeral home to even touch anything.” “There are very strict liability laws in Florida that could cause a funeral home to lose its license.” “This is why all our volunteers are covered under our blanket insurance policy.” More information on this is the subject of another article.
Many times a funeral home will provide MIAP volunteers with copies of the records for them to do their job. “We begin by going through BOXES of records, folder by folder, looking at all the information in them to determine if this person was a Veteran of a family member.”
It is sometimes an easy task as an actual copy of the DD-214 is in the records or the information may be on the death certificate.
All records are copied and the data is entered into a database. Information on a male is sent to the Department of Veterans Affairs to determine eligibility. Unless there is direct information that a female is a veteran, their information is sent to a genealogist to determine if the person was married to a veteran. In rare cases, some under 18 years of age dependents are discovered and the same process is afforded them as they are eligible to be interred with their parent(s).
Once the determination of status is complete, a notice to locate any next of kin is posted in the paper for a minimum of 30 days. If the person is not claimed, then the process moves forward to interment in a National Cemetery.
The first Veteran cremains in NE Florida were discovered by a demolition workman when a retirement home was to be converted to apartments. He found them on a shelf in a closet. Tom O’Berry, NE Florida Coordinator for MIAP at the time, was responsible for getting the veteran recognized and interred. The Veteran was Clarence H. Hill, Jr. Mr. Hill was a USAF Korean War Veteran. He was an Airman First Class, A1C who served honorably from December 1950 to October 1957.
Discoveries of cremains are not necessarily recent. In New York, the cremains of a Buffalo Soldier and four Civil War Veterans have been discovered.
For more information on the Missing In America Project, check their website at http://www.miap.us or contact Kathy Church, the MIAP FL State Coordinator 904-219-3035
MIAP will be begin operating in St. Johns County soon with Becky Blaylock at the helm.
By the way, the results of the story at the beginning of the article turned out very positive. There were so many relatives listed in the obituary that children responded to letters and claimed the couple. They had been searching for their parents for many years.