The ceremony was brief, lasting just over ten minutes Wednesday morning, but that didn’t diminish the sentiment his fellow servicemen felt.
As the service came to a close, roughly three dozen veterans and members of the public formed a line inside the Community Service Shelter of the Rio Grande Valley State Veterans Cemetery to pay their respects to Harold Joe Sincher.
Dr. John Kelly, Deputy Director of the Texas State Veterans Cemeteries Program, sat on a bench in the front row, clutching the folded American flag that he’d just accepted on behalf of Sincher’s family — none of whom were in attendance.
Sincher, who was 92 years old, was honored with an unaccompanied veteran burial. The Korean War Veteran served in the U.S. Army from March 1953 to January 1955 and received the National Defense Service Medal, Good Conduct Medal, Korean Service Medal, and United Nations Service Medal.
Unfortunately, little else is known about Sincher’s life outside of his military service and his Rio Grande Valley roots.
“He was born and raised down here in the Valley, and passed away down here in the Valley,” George Rice, onsite representative for the Rio Grande Valley State Veterans Cemetery, said after the ceremony. “Unfortunately, there’s very limited information. We do our best researching, but it’s far and few in between.”
Rice said that Sincher’s military records offered little help in acquiring biographical information about the U.S. Army veteran. Rice said similar cases involving deceased veterans with no next-of-kin — veterans who were being buried without military honors — have inspired ceremonies like the one that took place Wednesday.
“It should be second nature to all of us,” Rice said. “These are honors that they’ve earned. It’s about doing the right thing, but it’s part of who we are. It’s part of a code, an unwritten code in the military — leave no one behind.”
Kelly, a retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel, said he was happy to see the show of support from the community.
“It’s special when the community comes together,” Kelly said. “As George (Rice) said at the beginning of the ceremony, no veteran is left behind. We don’t ever want a veteran to be buried alone because that’s just military tradition. That’s what we do for each other. We watch out for each other, and in this case, we watch over each other.
“It’s a very special time,” he continued. “If the family cannot be here for whatever reason, I’m happy to come. In fact, it’d be hard to find a veteran who wouldn’t be happy to do that — to honor that veteran’s service and to honor that veteran’s life.”
The Rio Grande Valley State Veterans Cemetery is one of four Texas State Veterans Cemeteries. The others are in Abilene, Corpus Christi and Killeen. In the seven years since the inception of the Unaccompanied Veterans Program, there have been 181 unaccompanied veteran burials at the four cemeteries.
The absence of next-of-kin can result from a variety of reasons including family discord, societal isolation due to mental illness or other health issues, or simply being unable to reach any surviving family members.
The Texas State Veterans Cemeteries Program oversees burial ceremonies for an average of 2,700 per year, nearly half of which are interred in Killeen. The cemetery in Mission accounts for roughly 12% of those burials.
Raul Munguia, a retired U.S. Army Captain and Commander of VFW Post 8788, said this was the 90th funeral that he’s attended with his post this year.
“Throughout the year we get several unaccompanied veterans, not many,” Mungia said. “We give them the proper honors that they should receive and we lay them to rest. I don’t know who that gentleman (Sincher) is. We were asked to do this ceremony for him, and we’re happy to do so.”
Cruz Yanez, a U.S. Army veteran and an Honor Guard Commander with VFW Post 8788, said unaccompanied veteran burials don’t happen very often, with his post averaging two ceremonies a year.
“This is something that we do for them,” Yanez said. “It wouldn’t make a difference to us if he did have family. We still have to honor him. The honor is given to him in full. It’s all the same whether he’s by himself or if he has 100 members of his family. We don’t diminish anything.”
The Veterans Land Board website, www.vlb.texas.gov, offers a notification service for unaccompanied veteran burials. Anyone who would like to get involved with veteran services can visit the Rio Grande Valley State Veterans Cemetery administration building, located at 2520 South Inspiration Road in Mission.
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