Six American veterans whose ashes would otherwise have been stocked on a funeral home shelf somewhere were laid to rest with honor Friday thanks to the efforts of the American Legion's "Mission of Honor" project.
Members of Brick Memorial Post 348 gathered at the organization's Mantoloking Road building for a service to honor the six men who died bewteen 1993 and 2002 and whose cremains have been in limbo ever since.
After the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, words from Legion officials and a eulogy given by Chaplain Jerry Skorch, a rifle salute over the Metedeconk River ushered in the playing of Taps.
After the service, a motorcycle-escorted procession departed from the post with its destination set as the Brigadier Gen. William C. Doyle veterans ceremetary in Wrightstown, Burlington County.
It was the first time the Brick post – the state's second largest – has hosted the ceremony, said Doug Jantz, vice president of the Brick American Legion Riders.
Jantz helped organize Friday's ceremony, and said it made him feel good to help the Mission of Honor program, which has been in existence for three years.
"We had gotten wind of it through various chains of communication and got pretty heavily-involved," he said. "This is all driven by donations. To intern a veteran costs about $250."
Post Commander Jim Erskine said the Brick post has donated $10,000 to the project, which involves entering funeral homes across the state and researching the military service of those left behind.
"I'm very glad we got involved, and I'd be glad to do it again," said Erskine.
Francis Carrasco, of Lodi, is chairman of the Mission of Honor and said any number of scenarios can lead to a veteran's ashes being left to stagnate on a funeral parlor shelf. Sometimes, families could not afford a proper burial when their relative died. In other cases, splits between wives and husbands left one spouse to be left alone.
In many cases, said Carrasco, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of veterans don't even know their relatives weren't buried years earlier, and only learn through media reports after a ceremony.
"One lady called me up crying. She told me, 'Our family has been looking for our pop-pop for 54 years,'" said Carrasco. "We found him in Bergenfield. She lived in Connecticuit, but she drove down, made the pilgrimage, and stood over the grave for a half-hour crying."
The Mission of Honor has, including Friday's six, laid 91 veterans to rest and reunited family members with 180 of their deceased relatives.
More about the Mission of Honor can be found online at the group's website.
Those laid to rest Friday were:
- Charles B. Elterich, 1922-1997, U.S. Navy, World War II
- Charles A. Martin, 1923-1993, U.S. Navy, World War II
- Frederick W. Sparlin, 1922-2002, U.S. Navy, Korean War
- Robert V. Loeb, 1923-2003, U.S. Navy, World War II
- John S. Harris, 1929-1999, U.S. Army, Korean War
- Felix E. Willette, 1916-2002, U.S. Navy, World War II