By Melissa Bower, Fort Leavenworth LampJuly 28, 2011
FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan., July 28, 2011 -- A folded American flag has been promised a place of honor in a 9-year-old Missouri girl’s room.
Maya Birchler, English Landing Elementary School student from Park Hill in Kansas City, Mo., did not know Pvt. John Lawing, a World War I veteran who died more than 40 years before she was born. But on July 26, she accepted the flag on his family’s behalf at his burial. Birchler was encouraged to do so by her grandfather, Vietnam veteran Ronald Maki, who also accepted a flag on behalf of World War II veteran Sgt. William Kinney’s family.
“Something needed to be done, and Maya is going to be its caretaker from now on,” Maki said of the flag.
The unclaimed cremated remains of 14 veterans and three military wives were laid to rest at the Fort Leavenworth National Cemetery July 26 with full military honors. The remains were found and identified by the Missing in America Project, a nonprofit organization. Linda Smith, the group’s head of operations, said the group finds remains left in funeral homes, waiting for someone to pick them up.
Sometimes family members can’t afford to pay for funeral services, or forget, or perhaps there is no one left to claim the remains. Missing in America volunteers check records to ensure the cremated remains are veterans and have no dishonorable discharges, then arrange an appropriate burial. They’ve arranged about 1,000 burial services and are working to find more across the United States.
Among Tuesday’s buried veterans were Pvt. George McCarthy, a Civil War veteran on the Union side. His burial included Civil War re-enactors, the Sons of Union Veterans/Sons of Veterans Reserve, from Nebraska, who wore wool uniforms of the period in the triple digit Kansas heat.
Other veterans whose cremated remains were laid to rest July 26 include: Maj. Ernest Mark and his wife Frances, Maj. Albert Payne Duval, 1st Lt. Charles Henry Shumaker and his wife Alvira, Sgt. 1st Class James W. McDonald, Sgt. Roy S. Robbins, Sgt. William E. Kinney, Pvt. John W. Carpenter and his wife Marnodie, Pvt. Cyrus T. Dorr, Pvt. John C. McFadyean, Pvt. Ralph A. Lowe, Pvt. Ralph R. Wilson, Pvt. John L. Lawing, and Pvt. Jerome M. Joffee.
Most of the veterans were World War I veterans, including a few combat veterans. One even fought in the Spanish-American War.
“They’re veterans, that says it all,” Smith said. “They should be honored, yet they sat in funeral homes.”
The Northeast Kansas Chapter of the American Gold Star Mothers participated in the services along with Soldiers, some as pallbearers for the cremated remains of Army wives and some accepting the flags of the deceased, weeping as they remembered their own fallen Soldiers’ funerals.
For many Gold Star Mothers, their last ceremony at Fort Leavenworth National Cemetery for “Wreaths Across America” when the temperature was almost 100 degrees colder, but their dedication to honoring veterans showed no change.
“This is just so unique and awesome that we get to do this,” said Gold Star Mother Betty Wright, mother of fallen Soldier Pvt. Shawn Wright.
Retired Col. Roger Donlon, Medal of Honor recipient, shared the words on the inscription of his wedding band:
“What we are is God’s gift to us, what we become is our gift to God.”
Donlon also shared a poem from Sgt. Audie Murphy, “Alone and Far Removed.”
Retired Lt. Gen. Robert Arter, civilian aide to the Secretary of the Army, praised participants in the funeral services for giving appropriate recognition to veterans.
“A universal connection links every living American with those who have fallen or will fall in American wars,” Arter said, “and overrides the lapses in the sustaining of honoring their memory. We are, and shall be, connected to them by debt and obligation.”
Arter encouraged all -- veterans and civilians -- to tour the Fort Leavenworth National Cemetery, which is open to the public, and carefully read the names and dates of deceased veterans.
“No matter what we are told by those who see virtue in every form of corruption and corruption in every form of virtue, the American people hunger for acts of integrity and courage -- the acts which are displayed each and every day by those in uniform who serve and will serve for us,” Arter said.
Arter addressed the crowd of military servicemembers and families and veterans:
“It seems to me that you have determined that our right in this country, our history in this country, the sacrifices that have been made for this country, the lives that have been given for this country " are not a game.”