Leave no comrade behind
The commitment to leave no comrade behind in battle has been subject of much debate. Should the lives of other soldiers be put at risk to recover the body of comrades who have been killed in action? It’s easy to agree with that principle when you’re sitting in a peaceful place. It’s another thing to follow up on it in the heat of intense battle.
But what about recovering them after the bullets and bombs stop flying? Then there is no excuse for not bringing them home to be honored with a military funeral and a dignified permanent resting place.
Yet the cremated remains of thousands of veterans have been left behind in funeral homes and crematories all over the United States, perhaps forgotten by their families. Few of them were killed in action, but if they served honorably in our armed forces, they deserve to be interred and memorialized.
40,000 left behind
Just how many veterans have suffered this fate? Since 1992, more than 12 million veterans have died in the United States. Based on known cremation rates, about 3.7 million of them were cremated. Of those, only about 16% have been interred in cemeteries. About 83% were returned to their families. About 1.1% (roughly 40,000 veterans) remain unclaimed in funeral homes and crematories.* They literally have been left behind, without honor or burial.
The Avenue of 444 Flags Foundation has initiated the Veterans Left Behind Project to put an end to this situation. The Foundation is working with funeral homes, crematories, and mortuary schools to gather the cremated remains of these veterans and to inter them in a Cremation Garden among the flags surrounding the War on Terror Memorial site. There is no expense to the funeral homes or crematories other than the cost of shipping the remains to Hillcrest Memorial Park, 2619 East State Street, Hermitage, PA, 16148.
Based on the above statistics, it’s safe to estimate that the remains of more than a million veterans remain in their families’ homes. They, too, are eligible to be interred among the 444 flags. That is why we have extended the offer to inter their remains at no expense to families who cannot afford the costs of burial.
In addition to interment, the project includes the permanent memorialization of each veteran in the Tributes section of this web site. Many newspaper obituaries merely mention the fact that the person served in the armed forces. Few give any details about that service. Our Tributes will make up for that shortcoming. In some cases, it’s difficult to learn much about the veterans who have been left behind. All will have their DD-214 form, so we can include the basic facts. Beyond that, we must depend on friends and relatives to provide additional information.
All are welcome
We welcome funeral homes, organizations, and individuals to participate in the Veterans Left Behind Project. If you have the cremated remains of veterans that you would like to have interred among the Flags, please contact us to make arrangements.
Along with the remains, we require a proper release form for interment and a DD-214 form or some other documentation of honorable military service. We would also appreciate any photos, obituary or other information you have of the veteran.
*Based on a study commissioned by the Cremation Association of North America