The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Editorials

April 29, 2014

Treat soldiers with honor and respect | Cremated remains deserve proper burials

JOHNSTOWN — America, according to the last line of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” is “the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

Those brave, the men and women of the armed forces, have served, willingly and unwillingly, in wars on America’s soil and the soils of foreign lands.

Upon returning to their homeland, many soldiers were treated as heroes, being honored with parades and ceremonies. Others served during a time when war divided our country.

Regardless of when they served, they were never ignored the way 47,000 veterans currently have been ignored. Their cremated remains are stored on shelves in buildings across the United States. Their ashes rest in nondescript metal canisters.

Two members of Congress believe it is unthinkable the way this country has treated those veterans with such disrespect. U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Hollidaysburg, recently introduced the Dignified Interment of Our Veterans Act of 2014. It mirrors the same legislation introduced by U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., in November.

“Our veterans put their lives on the line to bravely protect our country, and we owe them a debt of gratitude for their service,” Shuster said. “When they pass away, they should be treated with the proper respect.”

We couldn’t agree more.

Both Shuster’s and Toomey’s bills would make it imperative that the secretary of veterans affairs investigate how unclaimed remains are identified and processed.

We understand that some of the remains may be in storage until they can be claimed by funeral directors. Perhaps others are there until their families can come up with the money for a proper burial. And we realize that some of the remains may belong to the last remaining member of a family. He or she would have no one to claim his or her ashes.

Working together is the key to giving the remains a fitting funeral.

“We just need the cooperation from all the funeral directors, medical examiners and coroners,” said John M. Fabry, state coordinator for the Missing in America Project. The nonprofit makes it a point to locate, identify and inter the remains of veterans.

“It’s not a simple issue, but it’s something I think the veterans are entitled to.”

Yes, entitled to, and deserving of.

In our opinion, there should not even be a discussion in Congress on these two pieces of legislation. Our representatives should raise their voices loudly and in unison in support of the Dignified Interment of Our Veterans Act. And they should do it promptly.

These veterans paid the ultimate price to keep this land free. This country owes these brave warriors the dignity and respect of a proper burial.

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