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.