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Solemn Farewell to Veterans Left Behind

About 300 people pay tribute to veterans whose cremated remains were never claimed.

Long Island funeral directors kept two promises Saturday: One they made to the families of the dead to care for the .

The second was the government's: A promise to provide all veterans with a funeral will full military honors.

Both were accomplished Saturday at Long Island National Cemetery in Farmingdale, where a broad coalition of funeral directors and veterans groups provided a solemn service of prayer, music and military ceremony for 60 veterans whose cremated remains were never retrieved.

Several of the servicemen had served in World War I. One even served in the Spanish-American War, his earthly remains rested on a shelf for half a century until Saturday,  that could have simply disposed of him long ago.

But they didn't.

The Nassau-Suffolk Funeral Directors Association, working with numerous local and national veterans groups, decided the remains in their care needed a proper military burial. More than a year in the making, the group chose Armed Forces Day for the ceremony, attended by about 300 people Saturday.

"We realize it is a shame that these veterans were left behind," said Suffolk "But we are a nation that does not forget, that after all these years these veterans deserve a proper funeral. It makes me proud to live in our country."

The cremains, stored in many cases for decades at 14 separate Long Island funeral homes, were escorted in hearses to the sprawling national cemetery. Pallbearers -- some were veterans, others were Boy Scouts -- carried the cremains from each hearse to a long table as servicemen and bystanders snapped salutes and covered their hearts.

A long golden line of boxes stretched before a stage of dignitaries. A giant American flag fluttered above, strung from the aerial ladders of two Long Island fire departments. For each name that was read, a single bell tolled.

When the final remains were placed in line, an honor guard fired off three ceremonial shots, shattering the stillness of a perfect May morning. The Island Trees High School Choir sang the National Anthem.

And Capt. Sean Callahan, U.S. Army chaplain, invoked this prayer:

"Once they were lost...now they are found," Callahan said. "Lord; you did not forget them...they're names are known to you."

For one reason or another, families simply never claimed the remains. Veterans of World War II, Korea and Vietnam were also among the dead honored. In some cases, the veterans were interred with their wives and, in one case, a son.

Through the efforts of the funeral directors, those remains now have a home in perpetuity. The individual urns were buried together in a columbarium, a sealed, above-ground tomb of concrete and granite can be opened to retrieve the remains of a loved one should a family member come forward one day.

The groups involved the Nassau-Suffolk Funeral Directors Association, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Missing In America Project, LINCMO, Inc., and numerous Long Island veterans’ organizations.

Joe Dowd (Editor) May 20, 2012 at 02:50 PM
This was a moving and -- in a strange way -- joyous, ceremony. Others I spoke to said the same thing. It was Long Islanders coming together to do something right. The Funeral Directors did a wonderful thing here. I was honored to cover it.
Jason Molinet May 20, 2012 at 04:01 PM
I'm glad these heroes finally have a home.
THE FABULOUS JOHNNY G. May 20, 2012 at 06:18 PM
ONE OF THE VETERAN'S GROUP WAS THE "PATRIOT GUARD RIDERS." AS OF TODAY 262,934 MEMBERS. WE RIDE WITH ONLY ONE AIM, TO SHOW 'RESPECT' FOR OUR MILTARY. ~~~~~~~~~~~ "THE INCREDIBLY FABULOUS JOHNNY G." ~~~~~~~~~~~ --UNITED STATES COAST GUARD, RETIRED --DISABLED AMERICAN VETERAN -- --------------- PATRIOT GUARD RIDER -- WE RIDE WITH RESPECT -------------- I TYPE IN CAPS CAUSE I'M HARD OF HEARING SO WHEN I READ IT BACK TO MY SELF, BEFORE PRINTING OR SENDING, I'M SURE TO HEAR IT LOUD AND CLEAR !
Denice Young May 20, 2012 at 06:40 PM
After hearing all the bad publicity about horrors committed by funeral homes these days, I am proud to hear that this one has kept its honor. As both an American and a Veteran, I thank you for maintaining the promise you made to the families of these heroes and to giving them the honor they so rightly deserved. Thank you.
Larry Vines May 20, 2012 at 08:50 PM
It is great to see that our Veteran's are not forgotten, I am a retired Army Veteran and I want to thank all of the group's involved in making this ceremony happen. These Veteran's deserved all the respect that was given to them at this ceremony.

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