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A veteran’s ashes are in limbo in Cambodia; friend, VFW members want to help

The ashes of Air Force veteran Jimmie Herschal Sillavan are still being held by a Cambodian funeral home nearly two years after his death.

COURTESY OF MICHAEL ESTEP

By SETH ROBSON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 1, 2017

Nonpayment of funeral expenses has left an American veteran’s remains in limbo nearly two years after his death in Cambodia.

Jimmie Herschal Sillavan, who served with the Air Force in the Pacific from 1959 to 1963, died of a heart attack at his home in Phnom Penh on Dec. 21, 2015. He was given a traditional Buddhist funeral; however, his cremated ashes have been held by a local funeral home since then because nobody has paid the $1,270 cremation fee, said Michael Estep, a fellow Air Force veteran living in Cambodia.

“The body was released (to the funeral home) without the U.S. Embassy checking to make sure funds to cover the cost of the cremation were deposited in a Phnom Penh bank account or with the embassy as required under the Foreign Affairs Manual,” he said in an email.

Sillavan’s survivors in Cambodia — he left behind a local national wife, Thavy Chevy, and a 4-year-old son, Hemmie Jimmie Sillavan — can’t afford to retrieve the ashes, said Estep, who added he tried but failed to contact the man’s extended family in the United States.

“Jimmie has never received any of the respect/honors given to honorably discharged veterans,” Estep said. “Thavy and her son have not received a burial flag or any other of the honors owed to the immediate family of a deceased honorably discharged veteran.”

Correspondence provided by Estep suggests Sillavan was receiving Social Security and veteran benefits at the time of his death, and there may be other benefits that his wife and child are entitled to, he said.

U.S. officials in Phnom Pehn declined to comment on the case, citing privacy concerns.

Roy Day, commander of the Phnom Penh Veterans of Foreign Wars post, said members are looking for ways they can help recover Sillavan’s ashes.

“These are the remains of a veteran and we should try to do what is right for him,” he said.

In the U.S., the VFW makes arrangements to collect the unclaimed remains of deceased veterans; however, the situation overseas is more complicated, he said.

Day said he wants to find out if there are survivor benefits and other things that Sillavan’s son is eligible for and help him obtain a U.S. passport.

robson.seth@stripes.com
Twitter: @SethRobson1

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