Community pays final respects to unaccompanied veterans

U.S Army Lt. Col. Eun Kim, deputy installation chaplain, officiates an unaccompanied funeral service for the remains of five veterans at the Fort Richardson National Cemetery on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, Nov. 30, 2022. The Department of Military and Veterans Affairs works jointly with the federally recognized non-profit organization Missing in American Project in locating, identifying and interring the unclaimed cremated remains of veterans with full honors and ceremony. (Alaska National Guard photo by Victoria Granado)

by Victoria Granado

Service members and civilians came together to pay their final respects to five veterans during an unaccompanied funeral service at the Fort Richardson National Cemetery on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Nov. 30, 2022.

When a veteran of any branch passes away, efforts are taken to locate and identify the family or next-of-kin. In the case that none can be found, the Fort Richardson National Cemetery and Department of Military and Veterans Affairs work together to hold an unaccompanied funeral service to inter the veterans’ remains with the ceremony and honors they have earned.

The service on Nov. 30 paid final respects to five U.S. Army veterans:

• Sgt. Terry Michael O’Boyle was born on Jan. 2, 1947, in Cleveland, Ohio, and served as an intelligence analyst.

• Spc. Wilfredo Cenaida Vidal was born on Aug. 25, 1960, in New York City, N.Y., and served as a physical activities specialist.

• Spc. Anthony Wayne Knight was born on April 18, 1950, in La Grande, Ore., and served as an army cook and kitchen supervisor.

• Spc. Paul Anthony Hubert was born on Nov. 2, 1955, in Burlington, Vt., and served as an army radio mechanic.

• Spc. Leighton Keith Murphy was born on Aug. 7, 1950, in Harrisburg, Ill., and served as an army gunner and aircraft mechanic and repairman.

On a national level, efforts are conducted by the Missing in America Project a federally recognized non-profit veterans’ organization. The organization operates with representatives in each state, ensuring unaccompanied veterans’ remains are properly and respectfully laid to rest.

Answering the project’s petition for a representative in Alaska, Virginia Walker, director of the Fort Richardson National Cemetery and coordinator for the Minority Veterans Program, has been searching for unclaimed veterans’ remains for more than ten years.

“It started with finding abandoned urns on shelves that shouldn’t be there,” said Walker, referring to some of her visits to funeral homes.

After discovering the urns, Walker grew determined to hold full services for the deceased veterans and worked with the DMVA in making the arrangements.

“I want to honor those who have passed,” said Walker. “I want to make sure they are taken care of when they have no one to honor them.”

For Verdie Bowen, director of the Office of Veterans Affairs and a U.S. Air Force veteran of 23 years, helping coordinate the funerals and attending the services are both a professional and personal duty.

“The veteran community is a family,” said Bowen. “Even when there is no next-of-kin to be found, we will make sure they are sent off correctly.”

In some instances, the deceased veteran does have living relatives that, due to circumstances, cannot travel to Alaska. In either case, a full unaccompanied funeral service is held and is open to the public. The service on Nov. 30 included civilians, veterans and current service members.

“I appreciate the military families stepping forward and being there for the veterans who have passed,” said Walker. “The service is for the veterans. Even if there is no one else attending we do the full ceremony and honors.”

Unaccompanied funeral services are normally held at the Fort Richardson National Cemetery on the last Wednesday of every month at 2:30 p.m.