Forgotten Connecticut veterans laid to rest with military honors

By SHAWN R. BEALS | The Hartford Courant (Tribune News Service) | Published: November 5, 2016

Veterans and state officials held a funeral service Friday afternoon for two Korean War-era veterans who never received a proper military funeral because their remains were unclaimed after they died.

George L. Duefield and Jack A. Lunich, both of Danbury, were to be interred in the State Veterans Cemetery.

Lunich served in the U.S. Navy with the VP-24 Patrol Squadron from 1950 to 1954. He was awarded the National Defense Service Medal and died in 2005 at age 73.

Duefield served two years in the U.S. Air Force in the 124th Support Squadron. He received the National Defense Service Medal and died in 2008 at age 70.

Duefield and Lunich were posthumously awarded the Connecticut Wartime Service Medal on Friday.

The Missing in America Project searches for the forgotten remains of veterans and gives them military funerals. Names of veterans gathered from funeral homes are verified with the Department of Defense, and the organization works with state agencies to coordinate funerals in veterans cemeteries.

On Friday, Green Funeral Home in Danbury held a service for the two veterans before a funeral procession to Middletown.

"We recognize today their sacrifice and their devotion to duty and courage to defend our freedom and our right to be here this afternoon," said Commissioner of Veterans Affairs Sean Connolly. "We all know that America's military has been the guardian of our freedom since the birth of the republic. These two veterans are part of that legacy, so now it's our duty and our privilege to lay them to rest with the military honors they deserve."

A few dozen veterans from the Middletown area and from Danbury attended the service Friday, holding flags and honoring comrades they never met but still feel connected to because of their shared service.

Army Reserve Col. Wanda M. Hawley, commander of the 1179th Transportation Brigade, spoke of the sacrifices Americans make when they serve in the military.

"To me it's always been an honor to honor our deceased veterans," said Bernie Rotunda, a member of the Danbury Korean War veterans group who attended the funeral. "They deserve all the recognition they can get."

The Missing in America Project and funeral homes around the state have held several similar services in the past two years. Missing in America, a national organization, said it has identified the unclaimed cremated remains of 3,175 veterans and has buried nearly 3,000 of them.

"We might not have known them but we know what they've done," said Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman. "They will not be forgotten. They will always be remembered as heroes."

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said the funeral is a tribute to the service of the soldiers and sends a message to future generations of soldiers that their service to the country is respected.

"We don't really need to know their race, religion or even where they were born. What we know about them is that they were patriots," Blumenthal said. "They became members of our military. They served and sacrificed for our country. That is the distinction that brings them and us here today."

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