Forgotten war veterans laid to rest in S. Fla.

Posted at 4:44 PM, Dec 06, 2015
and last updated 2015-12-06 16:44:20-05

The cremated remains of 14 war veterans and the spouses of seven other service members have been laid to rest in South Florida National Cemetery on Saturday, years after they died while serving their country.

Thanks to the Missing in America Project, they were remembered during a ceremony performed by volunteers at the Lake Worth cemetery.

The Sun Sentinel reports they hailed from all branches of the military and served in World Wars I and II, and the Korean and Vietnam wars. Their mahogany urns bore gold plaques that read: "You are not forgotten."

The nonprofit group searches for unclaimed military remains. They verify with the National Cemetery Administration that they served in the military and then bury them. It was the first such service the group held in South Florida.

"Each one that we lay to rest today is a hero. You, men, who we bury today, we say goodbye to you with thankful hearts because you've embodied heroism," said guest speaker Brian Mast, a retired U.S. Army bomb technician who lost his legs in an explosion in Afghanistan.

He also honored the "spouses of the brave" for offering serenity to service members.

Kathy Church, the agency's Florida coordinator, makes it her mission to bring veterans to their final resting spots.

"Once you get involved in it, it gets in your blood," Church said. "They served our country and risked their lives. It just didn't seem right (to forget the veterans)."

The group has buried more than 2,500 veterans and spouses of veterans across the country. But first they try to reach relatives and allow them a chance to claim their loved ones' ashes. Three families were reunited with remains before the service and opted for private services. Family members of those buried Saturday were not present.

Those buried Saturday were Jack Legan, Frank H. Vadurro, Charles J. Valkenburg, Carol Andre Shepherd, Jacob S. Cohen, Ignatius Patrick Crisci, John Joseph Fitzgerald, Wayne Andrew Ludwig, Frank Wilfred O' Hara Jr., John Edward Lee, Charles William Morton, James Edward Sullivan, William Vaselekos and Louis Walter Harvey, Jr.

Cemetery director Kirk Leopard said there is no higher honor than keeping the promise of taking care of the veterans.

"This service to our community and our veterans cannot be overstated," he said.