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Beacon Senior News

Missing in America honors forgotten heroes

Oct 26, 2020 02:21PM ● By Jan Weeks
Missing in America

Missing in America Project is a federal nonprofit dedicated to locating, identifying and interring the unclaimed cremated remains of American veterans and providing honor and respect to those who served by securing a final resting place for those forgotten heroes.

Veteran Mike Shults works to name our forgotten heroes

It was a tragedy, the death of his mother and youngest son, which brought local Navy veteran Mike Shults to Snyder Memorials several years ago. But those losses lead Shults on a mission—honoring forgotten veterans’ remains.

When the owner of Snyder Memorials learned Shults, 73, was a vet, she revealed that she’d discovered the cremains of a veteran hidden under a pile of tombstones left by the previous owners. Unfortunately, they couldn’t bury the veteran because of missing information. Shults agreed to look into getting the vet interred at the Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Grand Junction.  

Knowing only the man’s name, Howard Knowles, Shults contacted the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in Washington, DC. Without more information, his efforts were stymied until he found Mr. Knowles’ obituary. Armed with birth and death dates, he asked the local Veterans Administration (VA) for his Social Security number. The VA referred him to the Missing in America Project (MIAP), a federal nonprofit dedicated to locating, identifying and interring the unclaimed cremated remains of American veterans and providing honor and respect to those who served by securing a final resting place for those forgotten heroes. 

With MIAP and NPRC’s help, Howard Knowles, U.S. Army, was finally put to rest.

“The NPRC verified that he was eligible to be buried in a veteran cemetery. A few weeks later we had the service for him,” Shults said.


Investigating records

Fueled by this experience, Shults joined MIAP and next went to Martin Mortuary to see if they had any unclaimed cremains. He was shown into a large, file cabinet-filled room. 

“Richard at Martin Mortuary said they were taking care of some unclaimed cremains, and would be glad to see if any of them were veterans,” Shults said. “There must have been 20,000 to 30,000 folders.”

Undaunted, Shults began searching. He found records for 28 veterans whose ashes had not been claimed either due to no surviving relatives or relatives who were never notified of the death. 

More obituary searches and newspaper ads led to four vets’ ashes being claimed by family. Ultimately, 24 cremains were placed in blue marble boxes provided by Martin Mortuary. Martin held a chapel ceremony for relatives and other interested parties before transporting the cremains to the Veterans Memorial Cemetery for military services. 

Fire trucks decorated with flags, an ROTC and motorcycle honor guard, and a 21-gun salute honored the deceased veterans, including those of Walter Bonney, whose family attended the ceremony. His great-nephew received the folded flag, and left his remains there to be inurned. 

“About a month later their headstones were placed, each having the final words under their names ‘you are not forgotten,’” Shults added.


Giving full honors

After Shults’ success, the MIA project tapped him to coordinate the Western Slope search for other unclaimed cremains. He is the only coordinator for the area. 

“I’d really like to have more volunteers in different towns who can visit funeral homes and find cremains. Otherwise, I’ll probably have to drive to them,” Shults said. 

Unfortunately, Shults was frustrated by the refusal of other local funeral homes to grant him access to their files. So he searched bills from other states regarding veterans’ unclaimed cremains and authored Colorado House Bill 20-1051, which requires any funeral home to provide access to remains by the MIAP and its representatives. The bill was passed on March 20, 2020, and went into effect on September 15.

Now, all cremated veterans can receive the full honors they’re entitled to: a thank-you for their dedication to this country and all it stands for. Interested volunteers can contact the national office of MIAP at www.MIAP.us.