Editor’s Note: Supreme Court of Ohio Justice Evelyn L. Stratton (Retired) received an American Flag, presented to her by a military detail, for the remains of World War I, Army Capt. James Crawford DeLong.
Capt.Delong was one of 11 service members who were given a military funeral at the Dayton National Cemetery June 30 ,2015. The WWI veteran’s family could not be located.
The funeral was sponsored by the Ohio Chapter of The Missing In America Project.
The remains of all 11 service members were unclaimed.
Some had died nearly 50 years ago, some have been gone only a few. Some served in peacetime, others fought in war. One had been born in another century. And two of the urns held a father and a son.
They had at one time all been forgotten. But no more.
Following an escorted procession led by American Legion Riders’ motorcycles that left Columbus Tuesday morning, the ceremony at Dayton National Cemetery had all the makings of a traditional and stately military funeral. Except that no one there — and the crowd of more than 100 stood four people deep in places — had ever known a single one of the veterans being interred.
No one there had ever loved these men. No one there had watched these men grow up or hugged them tight before sending them off to war. No one there had ever dried these men’s tears in times of crisis or hugged them when life was cause for celebration.
But that didn’t matter.
Each urn bore the insignia of a branch of the United States military, and that was enough.
“We are here for the veteran, for each one of these men,” said Gary Mack, a Coast Guard veteran from Westerville who is the director of the American Legion Riders at Southway Post 532 on S. High Street where the procession began. “These men didn’t have any family, no one to honor them or thank them properly for their service.”
Then he choked up. “You never leave a military veteran behind. That feeling doesn’t stop when they die.”
Tuesday was the sixth funeral mission for the Ohio Chapter of the Missing in America Project. The nonprofit, volunteer group was founded in 2006 and dedicated to identifying previously unclaimed cremated remains of U.S. veterans and seeing them properly buried with full military honors in a national cemetery.
Nationally, about 2,400 veterans have been interred through the project’s work and, with Tuesday’s service, the number in Ohio climbs to 71 veterans and three spouses.
Funeral homes and cemeteries across the country have unclaimed cremated remains for a variety of reasons. In some cases, laws prevented funeral homes from disposing of them; others kept them out of respect for the dead. Then, a 2013 law cleared the way for the secretary of Veterans Affairs to work with veterans service groups to find remains eligible for burial in a national cemetery.
That gave the Missing in America Project, which had already been doing the work, a boost, said Steve Ebersole, the Ohio coordinator.
Of the veterans buried on Tuesday, five were found in the Schoedinger family of funeral homes in central Ohio, and five were in storage at Green Lawn Cemetery in Columbus.
All the Missing in America Project knows about each man is his name, his date of birth and, date of death, dates of military service and that he died in central Ohio.
But again, nothing else really matters, James Campbell told the group assembled for the service.
Campbell, commander of the Ohio Department of the American Legion, said that when he first heard about this project years ago and learned that veterans’ remains were stuck in dark basements or forgotten and tucked away on some backroom, dusty shelf, he was speechless.
“How could this happen?” he asked. “How can that be?”
The work of the volunteers who make sure the veterans are properly honored is special, he said.
“Just think of that, of being ‘unclaimed,’.” But now these veterans will be enshrined in the memories of all us here today,” Campbell said. “There is no more compassion for God and country than what you see here today.”
Active-duty and National Guard service personnel from each branch presented folded American flags to people — veterans’ organizations supporters, American Legion members and representatives from Green Lawn and Schoedinger among them — who stood in for loved ones of the veterans.
And then after the traditional rifle salute and the playing of taps, Ebersole tolled a bell as Campbell read each man’s name.
From World War I, Army Capt. James Crawford DeLong.
From World War II: Pvt. Paul R. Devore, TDelbert A. Dunkel, a technician fourth grade, and Pvt. Harry D. Goodman, all Army; Neal Greer Littler, an electronic technician second class and Lt. Richard Michael Tangeman, of the Navy; and Staff Sgt. Donald A. McCorkle, Army Air Corps.
From peace time: Airman Donald Bernard Rose, Air Force; Cpl. Richard Hartley Tangeman, Marine Corps; and Specialist 4 Carl Eugene White, Army.
After the service, each veteran was interred in the above-ground columbarium in Dayton.
And upon each marker will be inscribed: You are not forgotten.