HELENA – Seven Montana veterans were buried Friday in a ceremony at Fort Harrison, given a proper service after their cremated remains had sat unclaimed and unidentified for years in funeral homes around the state.
A large gathering of veterans groups and others watched as full military honors with a gun salute and funeral services run by a chaplain were provided for some veterans whose lives had gone mostly unnoticed.
“Today is the day that Montana has put its arms around these fallen men,” Lt. Gov. John Bohlinger said.
Bohlinger told the crowd that an American flag from the ceremony will be permanently displayed in the offices of the governor as a memorial.
The remains were found in funeral homes in Billings, Kalispell and Whitefish. Missing in America Project volunteers identified them after visiting the funeral homes, taking inventory of unclaimed remains and authenticating the names with U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs records.
The veterans are Jon William Ball of Kalispell; James Brodniak of Kalispell; Orville Clinton Hatch of Billings; Anthony Mills of Billings; Michael Lynn Shannon of Whitefish; Charles Shelton of Kalispell; and Charles Rollin Spears of Kalispell.
The Montana American Legion and Disabled American Veterans contributed the money to ensure that each of the seven men received a burial vault and headstone.
Friday’s ceremony began with motorcycle processions from several Montana cities arriving at Fort Harrison, west of Helena.
“Why are we here? We are here because our hearts told us to be here,” said Fred Salanti, with the Missing in America Project. “We are here because it is the right thing to do.”
The Missing in America Project says its volunteers nationally have visited 2,782 funeral homes and have found 16,100 remains. The remains of nearly 2,000 veterans have been identified and interred.
Salanti said there is still no process nationwide to identify those veterans who die penniless and unclaimed. He said every day that his group finds remains that have been sitting unidentified on shelves, more are added to those shelves.
“This is not isolated here,” Salanti said. “We need effort in other states, too.”