Veterans lay forgotten comrades to rest

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By KRISTY DAVIES

Hundreds of veterans from a plethora of veteran organizations all over the state and region descended upon Brig. Gen. William C. Doyle Cemetery in Wrightstown to pay their respects to the cremains of fellow veterans Friday afternoon.

The cremains, or cremated remains, were recently found to be the unclaimed remains of military veterans. Because of new state legislation allowing veterans organizations to give them a proper burial this was the first memorial ceremony of its kind in New Jersey.

     

It is estimated that there are hundreds of unclaimed cremains that sit on the shelves of hospitals, funeral homes and institutions across the state, many of which could be veterans.

"Today, justice will be served as we bury true American heroes," Jerry Skorch, a chaplain with the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 899 in Bordentown Township, who presided over the ceremony, said Friday.

The first veteran to be honored was Army Tech. Sgt. Joseph P. Glass, who was born in 1911 in Passaic. Glass joined the Army in April 1942 at the age of 31 and drove heavy trucks for the Army in Normandy and into the Rhineland in France.

"Fellow veteran, receive your due this day, your final resting place among our heroes," Skorch concluded before prayer.

A three-volley salute was given by the honor guard of the VVA and "Taps" was played by a bugler. Assemblyman Jack Conners, who sits on the Military and Veterans Affairs committee, attended the event along with retired Col. Stephen Abel, the deputy commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Military and Veteran Affairs.

All of the veterans proudly saluted and remained at attention and still while the flag was ceremoniously folded and presented to Conners.

"This is a very emotional day," Conners said. "I didn’t want to compare this to a combat missing in action, but Glass was found and is getting the honorable burial he deserves."

Conners, a New Jersey National Guard veteran, said it became personal when he heard Glass’ year of birth, which was just one year different from his own father’s.

The second veteran who received a proper burial was Seaman 1st Class George F. Wells who was born in May 1915 and died in 1984.

"We know few other details of this man, but that doesn’t matter," Skorch said to the audience. "He was part of the greatest generation."

"This is just the beginning," he said. "This was long over due."

Two Navy sailors from McGuire Air Force Base and Fort Dix folded and presented the flag to Abel.

"A family for some reason was unable to claim these remains and they were stored by a funeral director," he said. "With the new law veteran organizations get involved and these men and women are laid to rest with military honor."

Veterans stepped up to the small wooden boxes labeled "Department of the Army" and "Department of the Navy" respectively to pay their respects.

It has taken more than two years for the VVA and Department of Veteran Affairs to get to the point where they could begin laying the remains to rest. The official effective date of the bill signed into law by Gov. Jon S. Corzine is not until July 5, but some funeral homes have voluntarily given up the cremains.

All of the veteran cremains discovered in New Jersey will be buried at Doyle Cemetery. The cost of the burials will be reimbursed by the federal government, said Abel. Six more cremains have already been found, and the veterans’ organizations will be holding memorial ceremonies for those remains in the near future.

"It feels great, and we’re finding so many other cremains," said Roman Niedzwiedz, of Marlton, the chairman of the VVA in Bordentown Township and coordinator of the event. "It is a labor of love for everybody to be here."

Reach Kristy Davies at (856) 486-2917 or at [email protected]

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