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Group honors 'forgotten' vets

The remains of four forgotten war veterans are given full military honors Friday at the Vermont Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Randolph. The remains were located by the volunteer group Missing in America Project.

The remains of four forgotten war veterans are given full military honors Friday at the Vermont Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Randolph. The remains were located by the volunteer group Missing in America Project.

RANDOLPH, Vt. — In World War II, Samuel Mazur was a tail gunner on a B-17 that flew over Europe.

Three decades later, he died of cancer — with no family at his side — at a Veterans Administration hospital in Vermont. His cremated remains were sent to a funeral home, where they were placed on a shelf and forgotten.

"He had an interesting life," said Euclid Farnham, who knew him. "He really did not have anyone."

Until last week.

On Friday, Mazur got full military honors and was laid to rest along with three other forgotten veterans as part of the Missing in America Project, a volunteer organization that seeks to identify and honor the unclaimed remains of American veterans.

There was no family, but there were dozens of motorcycle-riding veterans and a military honor guard at the Vermont Veterans Memorial Cemetery.

"The recognition of their service transcends their death, and in places like this cemetery, we will continue to devote ourselves to their cause," retired U.S. Army Col. Joseph Krawczyk said during the ceremony.

In two years, the group's volunteers have visited 592 funeral homes, found 6,327 sets of unclaimed remains, identified 491 of them as belonging to veterans and interred 325, said Bruce Turner, the Vermont coordinator.

So far, no unclaimed remains have been identified in Florida, said Fred Salanti, the group's founder. Though the group has 11 volunteers in Florida, they haven't made inroads with funeral homes, which often are reluctant to open up their storage areas because of privacy and liability concerns.

The Department of Veterans Affairs supports the group's efforts.

"We would support any organization that helps to identify veterans who would be eligible for burial," said VA spokeswoman Josephine Schuda. "We can't get into the task of locating and recovering remains, but when a group like this presents identification, the VA will verify eligibility and assist the group to organize burial honors."

The remains of Mazur and the three other vets came from Knight Funeral Home in White River Junction, the first Vermont location contacted by Turner, 58, of Lebanon, N.H.

Turner figures there are dozens of similar remains in Vermont and New Hampshire, where he already has helped bury six at a veterans cemetery in Boscawen and is planning another service to inter nine more.

Salanti, 60, of Redding, Calif., founded the organization after discovering that unclaimed remains of veterans were being buried in California veterans' cemeteries without the honors he felt they deserved.

"Some of us who are Vietnam veterans, we still have something locked inside of us that makes us want to reach out and honor other veterans," Salanti said. "When you stand in a Missing in America Project service and see 60-year-old men, streaming tears, and you look around and see no family, we are their family."

When possible, the group returns unclaimed remains to family members. When no one can be found, the remains are interred in veterans cemeteries.

About 5 percent of all remains are never claimed, said Jim Johnston of the Vermont Funeral Directors Association.

The requirement for a veteran to buried in a veterans cemetery is to have been honorably discharged.

Times staff writer Nicole Hutcheson contributed to this report.

>>fast facts

Samuel Mazur, forgotten veteran

He won a Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal, the American Theater Ribbon, the World War II victory medal and the Army of Occupation Medal for service in Germany, said Clayton Clark, head of the state office of Veterans Affairs in Montpelier, Vt. He made a career of the military and lived all over the world, retiring in Vermont in a small house in South Royalton.

"His ex-wife came after he died," acquaintance Euclid Farnham said. "I guess I assumed they had claimed the remains. Obviously, they didn't."

Group honors 'forgotten' vets 11/10/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 12, 2008 5:12pm]
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