WEST DES MOINES, Iowa- Funeral services were held Friday for three veterans who died over ten years ago. Since that time, no family member had come forward to plan services for these three men. So one funeral home employee decided, she would make arrangements.
Hamilton Funeral Home employee spent some time off work. While at home she was working on a list of those who had died, but not been claimed by any family. On that list, she found three men, who were also military veterans.
John Fernandez Jr, Raymond Hines, and James W. Watson all passed away over a decade ago. Their cremated remains were kept on a shelf at Hamilton’s.
“I didn’t know these men, but what I do know is that each one of them honorably served our country. I knew I needed to do something,” said Lenae Strovers.
She worked to line up sponsors to help cover costs, and her company also held the service and did all the arrangements. The main chapel area at Hamilton’s was almost full for the joint service
“Today we know that Raymond Hines worked at the airport shining shoes, I’d say a very humble service,” said David Clark, “ Then there’s John Fernandez, a taxi driver.”
James Watson lived in Des Moines, he died in 2003 and was awarded a medal for service in the Korean War.
The urns of the three veterans were given an honor procession to the Iowa Veterans Cemetery near Van Meter. A representative of the organization Missing in Action told those gathered, that sadly this type of event is all too common. It’s estimated there are around 250,000 veterans left unclaimed, at funeral homes in the United States.
“The story of the veteran who survived, who came home, probably had a family, became dysfunctional and became alienated,” said Duane Avey of Missing in America. “ He may have moved to a remote part of the country because of PTSD, may have never had any success in his life.”
Avey said funeral homes are under no legal obligation to report the remains of soldiers left unclaimed.