DAYTON, Ohio – Veterans and civilians stood side by side to honor 10 Ohio veterans whose remains were buried Tuesday with full military honors, several months after they were found in a funeral home basement.
Six veterans conducted a rifle salute, taps was played and the name of each of the men and his dates of service were read at the ceremony under an overcast sky at Dayton National Cemetery. Some in attendance wiped away tears.
Among those who read the names was Richard Royer, a Vietnam veteran and Chapin with the American Legion Post 193 in South Carolina. He traveled 11 hours by motorcycle Monday before to make it in time for the service and burial. He said the crowd of a couple hundred people far surpassed his expectations.
"People have jobs out there," he said. "But they felt strongly enough about our veterans that they came out to support them."
The remains of the men were discovered at a Columbus funeral home by the Ohio chapter of the Missing in America Project. The burial was one of several scheduled this year for the national group, which contacts funeral homes, coroners' offices and state hospitals in an effort to see if the unclaimed cremated remains they have in storage may belong to a veteran.
At the end of the service, several veterans took turns passing by the table with the remains, and groups would take turns saluting at them. The remains were later buried with a military-issued grave marker.
Chastity Booth, the Ohio coordinator for MIAP, spent months arranging the burial to give the Ohio remains a final resting place. She called Tuesday's ceremony bittersweet.
"It's bitter because it's taken so long to get here," Booth said. "It's sweet because they're finally here."
Booth, a 33-year-old stay-at-home mother, discovered the remains last year at the Cook & Son-Pallay Funeral Home in Columbus, and they were positively identified in November.
Once the military records of the men were verified, Booth and a handful of volunteers tried to find next of kin by advertising in the local newspaper and searching online databases. The group knew only the names of the veterans, their service dates and whether they were given any awards.
The remains of 12 veterans were initially discovered, but the families of two veterans declined the burial. Tuesday marked the first burial for Booth, though two more are scheduled for this summer as additional veterans' remains have recently been found.
Members of the American Legion Riders led an escort from Columbus to the Dayton cemetery about 75 miles away.
Columbus resident Reisa Kersting, 45, participated in the escort. She said she's pleased that people could come together to show their gratitude and respect.
"I'm glad they were able to retrieve the remains," she said. "It's a shame we've had so many veterans that have fallen and passed away."
Congress is considering legislation that would require the Department of Veterans Affairs to recognize and assist MIAP with the burial of any unclaimed veterans' remains. The House bill, introduced by Rep. Pat Tiberi of Ohio last year, would ease the group's relationship with funeral home directors concerned about insurance liability in releasing remains. A companion Senate bill was introduced in March.
Matthew Favrut, a member of American Legion Post 239 in Worthington, said he was honored to participate in escorting the remains.
"It was humbling," the 58-year-old said. "It was humbling to pay tribute to people who have helped to protect us and our freedom in this country. It's not something you get a chance to do every day."