A group of motorcycle riding military veterans have taken on the responsibility of ensuring that a Civil War veteran receives the proper burial he has been denied for nearly 100 years. The Patriot Guard Riders, a group of fellow veterans that attend the funerals of U.S. military veterans, firefighters, and police, received the ashes of Jewett Williams after a service in Oregon and made a vow to return his remains to his home state of Maine. Williams served in the 20th Maine Regiment during the Civil War. He survived the brutal war only to eventually die at Oregon insane asylum 1922. His ashes would remain there, unclaimed, for nearly 100 years.
Williams is one of thousands of mental institution patients that were nearly forgotten. In 2004 the remains of approximately 3,600 patients were found in corroding copper cans in an abandoned shed on the institution’s grounds. These thousands of cans were meticulously documented, labeled, and eventually added to a memorial dedicated to the forgotten patients in 2014. Williams is one of only 300 patients that have had their remains claimed. Oregon Senate President Peter Courtney commented on the sad reality of so many patients dying unclaimed, he stated:
“He was a son, a brother, a husband and a father. At the end of his life, however, he was alone and institutionalized here. When he died, nobody came. Nobody came to honor him. Nobody came to take him home. Nobody came. Until today.”
Despite joining the near the end of the war in 1864 Williams was present as several infamous battles in American civil war history. His unit, Company H of the 20th Maine, was present for the siege of Petersburg, Virginia, and in several battles with the rebels right up to Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, Virginia. Williams would spend a majority of the war sharing a tent with his cousin, Albert.
Albert would not survive the war. He died at the young age of 21 from fever. Jewett, on the other hand, would go on to live a fulfilling live. He married twice, worked as a carpenter, lost his first child to disease but went on to have another five children, and would eventually relocate to Oregon where he would spend the rest of his days as a widower before being institutionalized. He would eventually die of cerebral arteriosclerosis at the age of 78.
He would remain at the facility until he was rescued by his leather vest wearing, Harley Davidson riding, guardian angels. Williams is scheduled to be laid to rest on Aug. 22, 2016 at Togus National Cemetery in his home-state of Maine. He will receive military honors and will receive a period-correct tombstone to mark his final place of rest.