Fallen servicemembers brought cross-country to a final rest in Arlington National Cemetery
June 1, 2009
By Alex McVeigh
- Medal of Honor winner, Buffalo Soldier comes home to Arlington National Cemetery
- Three service personnel laid to rest in Arlington May 29
- Missing in America project, Buffalo Soldiers Motorcycle Club form honor team
ARLINGTON, Va. -- Arlington National Cemetery serves as a final resting place for generation upon generation of American heroes. Other cemeteries like it house the remains of veterans who have served this country throughout its 233-year history.
But what happens when Soldiers from the past aren't given proper honors' Are they destined to rest forever in anonymity' Not if certain groups, like the Missing in America Project, have anything to say about.
A group whose goal is to place veterans in military cemeteries around the country, the project teamed up with the Buffalo Soldiers Motorcycle Club to inter three veterans in the hallowed grounds of Arlington National Cemetery.
They began their journey May 20, in Redding, Calif., and concluded with three separate burial services at Arlington, May 29.
Spc. James William Dunn, a combat medic who served in Vietnam and received a Silver Star, Boatswain's Mate First Class Johnnie Callahan served in World War II and Cpl. Isaiah Mays, a Medal of Honor winner, were all laid to rest after a lengthy journey to bring them to Arlington.
Mays, who was awarded the Medal of Honor for his efforts in defending an Army pay station against robbers in May 1889, represented an especially significant journey.
He was buried in an Arizona hospital cemetery, a numbered brick serving as his grave marker.
"It was a wonderful experience," said Fred Salanti, executive director and founder of MIAP.
"When you're doing something good and right, the little things don't matter."
When Mays was exhumed in Arizona it was a big news story and veterans from all over came to help get the Soldier on his way to Arlington. This was the sixth attempt at getting Mays a proper military burial.
"I love history, and I'm a veteran and I wanted to pay my respects for what [Mays] did," said Officer David Hopkins of the Phoenix Police Department.
He and his partner, Officer Louis Manganiello, helped exhume Mays, and flew to Washington, D.C., for the burial service.
"It was our honor to be involved in just a small part of the process."
Throughout the more than 3,100 mile ride, riders who made the cross-country trip picked up members, dropped off members, and stopped in towns across the country to spread the stories of the three men who were on their way home.
"We kept the cremains visible in a wooden case on one of the motorcycles," said Thomas Costley, president of the National Association of Buffalo Soldiers and Troopers Motorcycle Club.
"They attracted crowds wherever we stopped, and we spread awareness about each of these men."
The group traveled approximately 400 miles a day, and had a tight schedule to keep, despite the lack of cooperation from the weather.
"There were times when it just seemed like one storm after another," said Linda Smith, director of operations for MIAP.
"Other than that, it was absolutely wonderful; there were no hitches, which I attribute to the staff at Arlington National Cemetery."
Secretary of the Army Pete Geren attended the graveside service for Mays, which fit nicely in between thunderstorms.
Ron Eppich, a regional coordinator for MIAP and a founding member of The Old Guard Riders, received a flag, as well as a personal commendation from Geren at the ceremony.
Eppich's wife, Lee, and sister, Jamie Thomas, also received thanks from Geren for their efforts.
The riders who made it all the way to Arlington were recognized by Sgt. Maj. John Strock, director for Soldier outreach for Freedom Team Salute, an organization that honors those who contribute significantly to the support of the Army, its Soldiers and its families.
Strock presented each member with a certificate of appreciation signed by Geren and Gen. George W. Casey Jr., Army chief of staff.
Patti Callahan, daughter of Johnnie Callahan, and her son Joe Devlin, were also presented flags and shells from the firing party from Johnnie Callahan's burial service.
While the journey was long and hard, everyone who made it was glad to take part in the mission, but they acknowledged their work was far from over.
"It was very fulfilling, and I'm comforted that they are finally buried with honors," Costley said, "but we've got more work to do, there are still thousands of Soldiers left somewhere."