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17 unclaimed or homeless veterans are laid to rest with full military honors in Arizona

By SHAQ DAVIS | The (Tucson) Arizona Daily Star | Published: April 28, 2019

TUCSON, Ariz. (Tribune News Service) — Veterans who were once lost have been found and laid in their final resting places at the Arizona Veterans’ Memorial Cemetery in Marana.

During a Saturday afternoon event to honor their service to the country, the cemetery welcomed about 200 people — comprising representatives from all military branches, families and friends — who came to pay homage to 17 homeless or unclaimed veterans who were given their own spots inside the cemetery’s stone columbarium.

Each of the servicemembers’ names was read aloud during a roll call, followed by a bell that was rung in their honor and to signal their watch was over. They were laid to rest with full military honors.

“We all know we’re going to be there one day,” said retired U.S. Army 1st Sgt. Mike Matthews, who served in Vietnam and Operation Desert Storm. “This is respect from all of us to anybody who has served. These people didn’t have anybody, and we represent the community of veterans that come out to honor them so that they can be buried.”

Attendees came together under the clear Marana skies because of the work of volunteers with the Missing in America Project.

The project has several chapters across the U.S. and has helped to inter more than 3,900 veterans since 2007. Personnel with the Arizona chapter strive each year to find more unclaimed veterans in Pima and Pinal counties.

“I believe it’s an important part of life to recognize people that otherwise wouldn’t be recognized,” said Ann Kellison, a member of Daughters of the American Revolution, which supports veterans across the U.S.

Kellison was joined by Jean Yokley, the regent of the organization, who said she hopes for more community support of the project’s important work.

“They deserve people here to honor them because they don’t have any family available,” Yokley said about the interred veterans. “So that’s why our chapter and some of the other chapters come out to support the men and women that are being buried.”

The service was Kat Rimac’s first time visiting the cemetery and she came away with mixed emotions when thinking about the veterans.

“I’m so thankful for all the men and women who served our country, for the freedoms that we have,” she said.

“And it makes me very sad that the help that they need isn’t available when they come back, when they’re trying to adjust to civilian life.”

As the event drew to a close, one speaker recited a poem called “Forgotten Honor” that touched on the importance of making sure no veteran is left behind.

“We all did what we knew was right, we all held our honor true, we only wait for one to come and grant us what we’re all due,” the speaker said.

Seventeen military members were chosen to carry the urns of the deceased veterans. They each glanced at their urns and saluted before making the walk down the Memorial Path to deliver the veterans to their final home.

“They’re gone, but they’re not forgotten,” Matthews said. “We won’t forget you, even if you are homeless.”

©2019 The Arizona Daily Star (Tucson, Ariz.)
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