About 75 people, many of them veterans, attended the military burial Thursday of three soldiers and a sailor that none of them ever knew.
Among them was Sharon Noble Eaton, a Gold Star mother whose son, Staff Sgt. Rick Eaton, was killed in Iraq in 2003.
“Something just makes us do this,” said Eaton, who teared up when asked why she attended the burial with full military honors at the Connecticut State Veterans Cemetery in Middletown. “It’s just in our hearts.”
The service for the veterans was the latest in an ongoing effort to honor and properly bury the cremated remains of forgotten veterans left unclaimed — sometimes for decades — in funeral homes.
Thursday’s service honored Melvin W. Kaulfers, who served in the Navy in World War II and was 100 years old when he died in Collinsville in 2016; Bertram A. Lascelles, an Army veteran of World War I who was 71 when he died in Waterbury in 1959; Edward D. Rudderow, an Army veteran who served in World War I and was 88 when he died in Stamford in 1959; and Frederick W. Walters, an Army veteran of the Spanish-American War who died in Waterbury at age 81 in 1955.
The program began in Connecticut in 2008 under then-State Veterans Affairs Commissioner Linda Schwartz, who joined with the state Funeral Directors Association and the Connecticut Chapter of the Missing in America Project to identify the cremated remains of honorably discharged veterans deserving burial with full military honors.
“It means that no soldier is left behind and that’s really important to me,” Eaton said.
Funeral homes that are in possession of a veteran’s ashes are required to make a serious effort to locate family members before moving forward with the deceased as a candidate for the program. A record of the person’s honorable discharge is also required for them to qualify for being interred with full military honors and an official federal headstone paid for by the federal and state agencies.
Officials from the state Department of Veterans Affairs and the state Funeral Directors Association spent the last year working to determine which funeral homes possessed the cremains of the veterans by matching names, social security numbers and birth dates of the deceased against military records.
Thursday’s ceremony was the group’s sixth burial since 2009. It included a brief prayer service at the Veteran’s Home in Rocky Hill, a procession of four hearses — donated by funeral homes — with a Connecticut State Police escort to the veteran’s cemetery in Middletown and a full military burial. The burials included a posthumous presentation of Connecticut Wartime Service Medals for each of the men.
Brig. Gen. Gerald McDonald, assistant adjutant general of the Connecticut National Guard, Sen. Richard Blumenthal and Middletown Mayor Dan Drew attended the ceremony. Connecticut Department of Veterans Affairs Thomas J. Saadi was the keynote speaker.
“While these men passed without family or friends to honor them, they are no longer forgotten because we gather to remember them and provide them with the military honors they earned in service of our nation in time of war,” Saadi said.
Saadi also repeated the names of the four men, thanked them and the veterans in attendance for their service and Eaton for standing in their mothers’ place.
Edward Sheehy, president of the Connecticut Funeral Directors Association, also spoke about the program and its goal to provide a dignified burial for veterans.
“Sometimes the research and approval process takes some time, but the outcome is definitely worth the effort, as you can see today,” Sheehy said.
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