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Local forgotten veterans finally being laid to rest
Services scheduled for Nov. 14
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Six area men will finally get military burials, through the efforts of a Gainesville funeral home and a group that hunts down unclaimed, cremated remains of American veterans.

Missing in America Project, a nationwide organization, is planning services for the men, starting at 11:30 a.m. Nov. 14 at the Georgia National Cemetery in Canton.

"It doesn't matter if the (unclaimed) veteran is well-to-do or if he's indigent," said Guy Webb, Buford-based state coordinator for the project. "We don't judge the person. We just give them what we think they deserve."

The nationwide effort started in 2007 and has resulted in 1,584 burials of veterans so far, according to the Missing in America website, www.miap.us.

"We found hundreds of (unclaimed remains) sitting on shelves in mortuaries and funeral homes," said Webb, who was appointed by the American Legion to launch Georgia's efforts a couple of years ago.

"We've been trying to give (veterans) the last thing they were promised by the U.S. government," he said, referring to a burial. "When a veteran gets discharged, he is eligible for medical care, housing, education and all kinds of benefits."

Webb, who retired from the U.S. Navy in 1974 after a 20-year career, said his group has sent letters to funeral homes and coroner's offices throughout Georgia to explain the project.

Memorial Park Funeral Home in Gainesville opened its doors to the Missing in America Project, and "we inventoried what they had," Webb said.

Working with a name and Social Security numbers, the group typically works to determine through a national data center in St. Louis if the deceased person was a veteran and whether he or she was honorably discharged.

The effort with Memorial Park "has taken a year and a half," Webb said. "With each (person), we have to track down everything that we can, and then try every means possible to find next of kin.

"In the rare cases we do find the next of kin, we ask for permission to do this (burial) and explain to them that it's at no cost to them."

"In this case (with the six veterans)," Webb added, "we found one brother who was still alive and had a valid phone number, and he was thrilled that we could do this for his brother."

The veterans to be buried next month are William Hester, William Jacobson, Robert Nelson Jones, Leon Ramey, John Roman and Lofton H. Smith. They died between 1997 and 2007.

Spouses of Jacobson and Smith will be buried with their husbands.

Memorial Park "was very cooperative in helping us gain custody of these veterans' (remains) that were sitting on the shelf," Webb said.

Billy Hendrix, the funeral home's vice president of operations and public relations, helped in the effort.

He couldn't be reached for comment.

On Nov. 14, the remains will be taken from American Legion Post 127, 2640 Sawnee Ave., Buford, to the cemetery as part of a motorcade, with a police escort, beginning at 9:15 a.m.

"It's like a funeral procession," Webb said.

The burials will fall at least 30 minutes apart. For each one, a chaplain will say a few words, a bugler will play taps and the veteran will receive a three-volley salute with rifles.

Finally, the U.S. flag will be folded and presented to next of kin, if present.

If next of kin isn't there, the flag will be given to a Gold Star Mother or a "woman who has lost a son in combat and who will receive the missing flag in lieu of missing family," Webb said.

"We will have (a burial for) one more (veteran) who passed away in Buford awhile back," he added.

Paperwork about the veteran and the burial will be stored at the American Legion post in case a relative shows up asking about their loved one.

In that case, "we would tell the person the exact location of burial and if he wants, he can have his (family member) disinterred at no cost," Webb said.

The overall experience, culminating with the military burial, is "very rewarding," he said.

In one case, not in Georgia, "we found one Medal of Honor winner buried in a field out behind a mental institution where he was a patient when he passed away," Webb said.

Eventually, Missing in America Project was able to claim the remains and bury the veteran at Arlington National Cemetery near Washington, "where he belonged."

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