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Unclaimed veterans buried with dignity, thanks to veterans group in Berks

Reading Eagle - 8/2/2022

Aug. 2—When the flags were removed from the urns of five veterans laid to rest Monday afternoon at Indiantown Gap National Cemetery and folded with military exactness, there were no family members there to receive them.

There were no speeches about who these men were.

There were no stories about how they led their lives.

There was just the sound of taps and a rifle salute.

And the only people gathered there to honor their memory were strangers.

The ceremony was arranged by Veterans Making a Difference as a way to pay final respects to members of the military whose bodies were not claimed by relatives. The group is the only known organization in Berks County taking the lead on getting these veterans the dignified burial that they deserve for their service to the country.

'The right thing'

Doug and Liz Graybill, the founders of Veterans Making a Difference, said they decided to take on this role shortly after forming the organization because it was something that needed to be done.

"We just knew it was the right thing to do," Liz Graybill said.

The organization has been responsible for the burial of a dozen unclaimed veterans over the last several years.

That includes the five men laid to rest Monday in Lebanon County:

—Air Force veteran James W. Lovell.

—Air Force veteran John C. Nagle.

—Air Force veteran Raymond F. Troemel.

—Navy veteran Kenneth E. Butzer.

—Army Air Corps veteran James W. Baldwin.

Liz Graybill said organizing funerals like the ones that took place Monday requires a lot of collaboration.

The process usually begins in the Berks coroner's office with staff contacting her with the names of people whose bodies have gone unclaimed that they suspect were once members of the military. They typically were homeless or had no surviving relatives to claim them.

And some have had surviving family members who did not want to claim them.

The veterans interred Monday had been sitting unclaimed in the coroner's office for more than a decade.

"These guys are veterans who served their country and I don't think they deserve to sit on a shelf," Liz Graybill said. "They need to be given a proper burial, and they should be recognized for their service as they are put in their final resting place."

Verifying service

But first, she needs to make sure these unclaimed people are veterans. She checks her information with the National Military Personnel Records Center in Missouri, the repository of millions of military personnel health and medical records of discharged and deceased veterans of all services during the 20th century.

When she gets confirmation the remains are indeed veterans who were honorably discharged she reaches out to Indiantown Gap National Cemetery to organize the memorial service.

Liz Graybill said the only information she is given about the veterans is their name, when they served, what branch of the military they served in and the rank they attained.

"We don't know anything else about these veterans," she said.

Veterans Making a Difference reimburses the county for the cost of the cremation and transports the unclaimed veterans to the cemetery. The memorial costs, like those for all veterans buried at national cemeteries, are covered by the federal government.

Liz Graybill said the folded flag normally given to the family members of veterans during the memorial service is presented to her organization, which then donates the flag back to the cemetery to be flown on their Avenue of Flags — a presentation of more than 700 interment flags that line the lanes of Indiantown Gap National Cemetery.

To help

For those who want to contribute to Veterans Making A Difference so it can continue to organize burials for the remains of unclaimed veterans, a check can be made out to Veterans Making A Difference and sent to 2412 Spring St., West Lawn, PA 19609.


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