The feelings in the air were mixed â€” it was a day to celebrate, 15 veterans and a spouse were finally being laid to rest â€” but it was also a day of sadness knowing these veterans had not received their final roll call sooner.
The remains of 16 cremated bodies laid to rest Friday at the Southern Arizona Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Sierra Vista were found as part of the Missing in America Project. The group has found a final resting place for 50 homeless or indigent veterans during its first year. This is the third service of its type in Arizona.
â€œEvents like this are important because when the guys came home from â€˜nam [Vietnam] nobody respected them or anything else, so now we need to do it for everybody so everyone knows where freedom comes from and how they [service members] put their lives on the line for us,â€ said Ruth Graham, who rides with her husband Don in the Patriot Guard Riders.
â€œEvery person that is in this cemetery served this country, and we should honor our veterans no matter how old we get and no matter where we go. We have to honor our veterans because for years the veterans were not being honored; they were frowned upon. But now people are starting to honor their veterans,â€ said supporter Bill Pakinkis, commandant of the Wild West Detachment, Marine Corps League in Tombstone and a member of the Arizona Veterans Hall of Fame Society.
The veterans served in all branches of the military; Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, Army and during a variety of eras: Vietnam, the Cold War, Korea and World War II.
â€œWe all came out together from California and Utah to show our honors to these veterans who were forgotten on shelves. â€˜Forgottenâ€™ may be a strong term, but they have no family, nobody to answer for them so we come out to show our respects and pay our honors,â€ said Roger Graves, Missing in America Project, Utah state coordinator.
The Missing in America Project is active in 37 states across the U.S., according to Graves.
The foundationâ€™s website states: â€œThe purpose of the MIA Project is to locate, identify and inter the unclaimed, cremated remains of American veterans through the joint efforts of private, state and federal organizations. To provide honor and respect to those who have served this country by securing a final resting place for these forgotten heroes.â€
According to attendees, that is exactly what happened Friday.
â€œI think these events are important because we recognize the service of American Soldiers, Airmen, Sailors and Marines and Coast Guardsmen who have served our country. Even though they may not have had family here, they are not forgotten by our nation and by other service members and the communities that understand exactly what they have given for us,â€ said Command Sgt. Maj. Todd Holiday, U.S. Army Intelligence Center of Excellence and Fort Huachuca command sergeant major.
Fort Huachucaâ€™s commanding general spoke to the crowd during the ceremony Friday.
â€œIt is hugely important to recognize our veterans for their service â€” especially those who havenâ€™t been formally recognized. Some of these folks have gone a long time and not been recognized for their service, and we want to make sure all our service men and women are recognized,â€ said Maj. Gen. Gregg Potter, commander, U.S. Army Intelligence Center of Excellence and Fort Huachuca.
â€œWe donâ€™t usually have a family member at these but today we do â€” Mr. Bailey,â€ Bob Day told the crowd as a flag was handed to a gentleman in the crowd. Dave Bailey received the flag on behalf of his brother, Air Force Sgt. Isaac Bailey, who served in the Vietnam War and passed away on March 3.
Bailey quietly wiped away tears as he clutched his brotherâ€™s flag; the two had grown apart but were working on their relationship in recent years. Isaac was homeless.
â€œI feel that this is kind of an end to all of the trials and errors he went through with his medical conditions, and I am happy in a lot of ways that I know where he is at, in a better place. But yet the loss is very deep,â€ Bailey said. â€œI think this is absolutely superb and is very much appreciated,â€ he added of the service for his brother and other veterans.
Day believes there are many more remains throughout Arizona that have yet to be honored, and the group will continue searching. He said it is never too late to provide the honors.
Those honored Friday:
James Smith, USAF, Vietnam
John R MacNeal, Navy, Vietnam
Christian T. Crowley, Navy, Vietnam
Issaac L. Bailey, USAF, Vietnam
Edward Langowski, USMC, Vietnam
Daniel L. Purcell, USAF, Vietnam
John C. Stobaugh, Army, Vietnam
James D. Hoagland, Navy, Cold War
Steven E. Banks, USAF, Vietnam
Gerald E. Lebon, USMC, Vietnam
James K. Holstein, Navy, Vietnam
Donald R. Dyer, Army, Vietnam
Lloyd D. Ready, Navy, Cold War
John C. Naughton, Army, Vietnam
Ray A. Clark, Army, Korea
Fredrick J. Kelley, Army, World War II
Francesca A. Kelley, Spouse