(COLORADO SPRINGS) — More than 50 community members showed up to Pikes Peak National Cemetery to honor someone none of them had ever met. It was a committal service for an Unclaimed Veteran who served in the Vietnam War.
The official term “Unclaimed Veteran” is used when a veteran passes away and they are not claimed by relatives, friends, or a legal representative. Officials at the cemetery say these veterans are the ones that need the most support.
Against the backdrop of a cloudless morning at 9:00 a.m. on Wednesday, April 12, Vietnam War veteran Richard Lynn Ater was laid to rest. Even though none of Ater’s relatives or friends claimed his remains, the importance of his service was still remembered.
“When there is no family, he is still our brother,” said Peter Tetley, founder of Pikes Peak National Cemetery, and Vietnam War veteran.
The Defense Department issues each veteran a DD-214, identifying the veteran’s condition of discharge, and any other reported military records. The only information known about Ater was from his DD-214.
Ater joined the U.S. Army in Denver from 1965 to 1967 and served in the Vietnam War as an aircraft instrument repairman. He received the Vietnam Service Medal, Vietnam Campaign Medal, and National Defense Service Medal during his time serving the country.
“We don’t know what he went through… But at the same time, he did serve our country at some point in his life, and it was an honorable service,” said Arieanne Catalan Charles, program specialist at the Pikes Peak National Cemetery.
People in the crowd got emotional as the service proceeded, sniffles could be heard throughout the congregation, and many people also wiping away tears.
“For the community to come out here early in the morning and support this unknown veteran that they didn’t even know, for a day in their life. They’re crying and grieving with everybody else as they did know him… I’m proud to be a part of this community,” said Charles.
Many of the members in the crowd were veterans themselves, some of them relating to Ater on a personal level. Army veteran Tyresha Pollard heard about this service on the news and decided to come and show her support, only to find out she had the same job specialty as Ater.
“It made me very emotional because I was also a helicopter mechanic when I served in my time… For me to come and honor someone who did the same exact thing that I did, is beautiful,” said Pollard.
Officials with the Pikes Peak National Cemetery say that anyone with a DD-214 who served honorably is eligible to be put to rest at their cemetery.
“If they were indigent or if they were homeless, whatever the case may be… is still required that we remember them all,” said Tetley.