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GROUP BURIES ABANDONED REMAINS OF VETERANS
Northern Valley Suburbanite - 12/7/2017
CRESSKILL -- On the battlefield or back home, no soldiers are left behind.
This ethos has led local veterans to work together and ensure deceased comrades have a proper burial decades after remains were left forgotten at funeral homes across the state.
On Nov. 30, New Jersey's Mission of Honor for Cremains of American Veterans Mission buried the cremains, or cremated remains, of nine veterans left unclaimed for decades in two funerals homes in Clifton and Ridgewood. The ceremony took place at Brig. Gen. William C. Doyle Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Wrightstown.
The burials were paid for by American Legion Post 21 of Cresskill, which raised funds for months to reach a $15,000 goal that will pay to locate and give a proper burial to 50 veteran cremains.
"I feel that a person who gave up their life for the country doing their patriotic duty shouldn't be forgotten," said said Joe Cutolo, commander of Post 21. "Every person that passes away should have a decent funeral. It's sad that people are sitting in funeral homes and nobody knows."
The Mission of Honor was created in 2007 by veterans Francis Carrasco and Roman Niedzwiedz, after they heard a number of veteran's cremains were discovered abandoned in Oregon. They created the non-profit to make sure veterans in New Jersey did not meet the same fate. The Mission has since helped bring 506 veterans to their final resting place.
Burying unclaimed veteran remains can be a long and expensive venture given the costs of gathering documents to gain access to the cremains, searching for family members and preparing for the burial service. The process can cost $300 to bury each veteran, said Carrasco.
American Legion Post 21 leaders heard about the issue and costs and decided to help. The post raised $6,690 by August and appealed to the public to help them reach the rest of their goal.
Since then, about 75 donations helped the post reach $15,000. Cutolo said he was "truly grateful" for all communities who decided help play tribute.
"I'm actually, truly speechless with the amount we received," said Cutolo. "It's a great feeling to know we were a small part in helping to honor these men and women."
Three of the cremains are from Marrocco Memorial Home in Clifton, and six from Feeney Funeral Home in Ridgewood. The cremains of a World War II army veteran were left in a Clifton, while those of a corporal were left on a shelf in Ridgewood for 35 years, said Carrasco. Remains of a veteran from the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps that spent 17 years in Ridgewood, were honored during the Nov. 30 service, said Carrasco.
Charlene Correa, a funeral director at Marrocco Memorial Home, said unclaimed veteran remains were an issue facing many funeral homes around the area, as many, especially World War II veterans, may no longer have family members left. Correa said she was happy to work with Mission of Honor to give the veterans their final resting place.
"I hope this brings awareness," said Correa. "In a lot of funeral homes, the cremains will sit there."
"I appreciate all the support and help from Cresskill," said Carrasco. "No veteran will be left behind."