During the seven years Bill Lauchlan served in the Air Force Combat Security Police in Vietnam, looking out for his fellow service members was a matter of survival. It’s hard to explain how deep that bond remains, he says. Even after you’ve come home.
So when Lauchlan, 62, of Cedar Rapids, learned a few years ago that veterans’ abandoned cremains were being stored, abandoned, in funeral homes across the country, he immediately stepped up to help. “I couldn’t believe that we as a country could leave veterans sitting on shelves and not giving them the military funeral they were promised and deserved,” he told me this week.
He joined a group called the Missing in America Project, started in 2007 by an Oregon veteran to find and inter forgotten and indigent veterans’ cremains in storage at funeral homes, mortuaries and state hospitals around the United States.
Veterans who had served their country, but who had so far been denied a proper military burial — or any burial.
He contacted Iowa funeral homes and found one veteran the first year. Seven the next. This last year, after sorting through hundreds of unclaimed cremains at a Des Moines funeral home, MIAP volunteers found 21. They served in both World Wars, in Korea and Vietnam. They were Army, Navy and Marines.
Lauchlan, now the Iowa MIAP coordinator and national information officer for the group, confirmed their service with the records department at Jefferson Barracks in Missouri, and did what he could to find any living relatives. Then he contacted the Iowa Veterans Cemetery and set a date for the funeral: June 29.
They transferred the cremains from boxes and bags and into specially made military urns. The urns filled up two hearses, which drove to the cemetery accompanied by a motorcycle guard. Hundreds of people stood by as service members carried the veterans’ cremains down to the gravesite.
Each for the other, even in death. MIAP has their back. “We’re out there looking,” Lauchlan said. “We will find them.”
For more information: Facebook: MIAP Iowa, or online: miap.us
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