Group holds military funeral for 10 unclaimed veterans

12/14/2013 7:40 AM

12/14/2013 7:47 AM

With sunlight splashing over their metal plaques and polished wood, urns containing the remains of 10 veterans were carried Friday to their final resting place.

The journey to the Beaufort National Cemetery was a long one for the 10 men, whose bodies were unclaimed upon their death. Though they collectively contributed more than 21 years to the U.S. Navy, Army, Marine Corps and Air Force during the Korean War, Vietnam War and Cold War, only Friday did they receive a funeral service with full military honors.

It was the sixth such ceremony in South Carolina since 2012, when the state gave veterans organizations authority to receive unclaimed remains from funeral homes and coroners and inter them in national cemeteries.

That's exactly the mission of the Missing in America Project, whose South Carolina chapter worked with the American Legion to conduct Friday's service.

The organization obtained the names of about 35 people whose remains were unclaimed across the state and sent them to be cross-checked with military records in St. Louis, according to Larry Truax, assistant state coordinator for the S.C. chapter.

He was pleasantly surprised when the news came that his group could inter 10 people, eight from Charleston County and one each from Horry and Richland counties.

"The greatest tragedy for a veteran is being forgotten," Truax said.

A line of veterans holding American flags stretched across the grass, their dozens of parked motorcycles enveloping the few hundred people in attendance.

They saluted alongside the Marines conducting the service, whose dress blues stood out among the leather jackets and caps emblazoned with "Marine Corps League," "Military Order Purple Heart" and "Combat Vets Association." Among those in attendance were veterans from American Legion posts on Boundary Street and Paris Avenue, and others from Chapin and North Augusta.

"When one falls, we all fall," said Edgar Williams, commander of American Legion Post 207 in Beaufort. "We should all work together in unity and strength."

Surrounding their graves were festively decorated headstones, accented by poinsettias, candy canes and wreathes. The scene fit with what Truax called a joyful occasion.

"This is a happy day," he said, "because these guys get to go home."

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