Unclaimed remains of 35 veterans laid to rest
Published: Monday, May 20, 2013 at 12:47 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, May 20, 2013 at 7:24 p.m.
The remains of 35 military veterans and two military wives, left unclaimed for decades in some cases, were escorted by 120 motorcycles from Santa Rosa to Dixon Monday for formal military burials.
Among the cremated remains are those of eight men who served in World War I and 17 who served in World War II.
A brief ceremony was held at the Santa Rosa Memorial Park at 11 a.m. Monday before a hearse began the 75-mile drive to the Sacramento Valley National Cemetery. The motorcade included more than 120 motorcyclists from law enforcement, the Patriot Guard and the American Legion Riders.
“One of the tragedies of this is that you have people who dedicated their lives and never got the recognition they deserved,” said Sonoma County Supervisor Shirlee Zane.
“In America, we take a lot of our freedoms for granted, but without a strong military to protect us, we wouldn't have these freedoms,” said Zane, who also highlighted the experiences of her father, a World War II veteran.
Zane spoke at the event along with Sonoma County Veterans Service Officer Chris Bingham. Representatives from State Sen. Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, and Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, were also present at the ceremony.
Windsor resident Michael Cracchiolo rides with the Patriot Guard and saw Monday's event as a “way to give back to the people who served.
“It's crazy that some of them sat there for something like 50 years,” said Cracchiolo, whose grandfathers are both veterans. “Never forget.”
In addition to the World War I and World War II vets, the remains included one from the Korean War, three who served in the Vietnam War and six with peace-time duty. None of the veterans died during military service.
The longest unclaimed remains belonged to Army Sgt. Frederick Brauner who died in 1962, and the most recent belonged to Army veteran James Keller who died in February.
Sonoma County Veterans Remains Officer Ron Collier was largely responsible for identifying the military veterans. Collier researched the names of more than 300 remains held at Santa Rosa Memorial park to determine whether they had been veterans.
Jackie Ritchie of Santa Rosa, whose husband Dave Ritchie is a Navy veteran who took part in the ceremony Monday, credited Collier for making the event happen.
“(Collier) became the next of kin for all 35 veterans,” Ritchie said. “Because they had no next of kin.”
The motorcade arrived at the national cemetery around 1:15 p.m. and a formal ceremony began at 2 p.m. The cemetery's flag hung at half-staff, and a flag line surrounded the small field where the ceremony was held. Veterans, motorcyclists and current service members served as pallbearers for the veteran's remains, carefully carrying the boxes covered in small flags as bagpipes played “America the Beautiful.”
California National Guard Chaplain Guy Gifford gave the invocation and the names and ranks of each veteran were read during the ceremony.
The ceremony concluded with the presentation of two flags, one to Bingham and one to Sgt. Greg Stashyn of the Sonoma County Coroner's Office.
“It's an amazing honor to receive this flag and represent and receive this on behalf of Sonoma County,” said Bingham. “It's hard to put words to it.”
The presentation was briefly interrupted by the collapse of one elderly veteran from the 90-degree heat. The man was treated briefly by paramedics.
Collier said the conclusion of his local Missing in America project was “a big relief.”
“I finally got the veterans where they belong,” he said. Collier said 11 veterans will be buried Tuesday, and the rest will be buried within the week.
“There's no words to describe today,” said James Harris, a Vietnam veteran and the chairman of the board of directors of the Sacramento Valley National Cemetery. “I'm proud to be here.”
You can reach Staff Writer Melody Karpinski at 521-5205 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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