DENVER (KDVR) — They were forgotten or abandoned by family and friends, their cremated remains left in boxes on local mortuary shelves for years, or even decades in some cases. But on Thursday, they were finally laid to rest alongside fellow service members at Fort Logan National Cemetery, thanks to a local veterans group determined to right a wrong.
“It’s unbelievable, really. They just died and nobody came and claimed their cremains,” said Jim Topkoff, member of the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 1071.
“There may be some cases where their family maybe threw them out or they left and never came back,” he added.
A Vietnam veterans group’s new mission
The local Vietnam veterans group took on a new mission seven years ago.
“We discovered as a chapter that there (were) literally thousands of unclaimed cremains sitting in mortuaries all over the state. And we thought, there’s got to be some veterans in there, so that’s kind of how we got started on this program,” Topkoff said.
So the group got to work with local mortuaries, going through old records and identifying the unclaimed remains of those who served their country. Then they started the long process of confirming their identity and service through the Veterans Administration, before scheduling interment ceremonies at Fort Logan National Cemetery.
“As a veteran, we look at our brothers, and we say, you know, they served honorably, they served their country, and they’re entitled to the benefits this country provides for them. So when we got that drilled into our heads, we said, this is really important,” Topkoff said.
Honors Burial Project holds memorials held for 122 Colorado veterans
The group has helped locate and hold memorials for 122 Colorado veterans, including one whose remains had been sitting on a mortuary shelf for 60 years.
They don’t know how the veterans died, or what happened while they were living that led to their abandonment at death. But they know war can change people, and veterans often end up homeless or addicted when they return.
“We’ve had a full colonel, we’ve had two different doctors, one was an MD, another was a dentist, so these people, you know, they reached a plateau in life that many of us never achieved,” Topkoff said.
On Thursday, seven men were laid to rest as part of the Honors Burial Project:
- Jerry Burton Blodgett, U.S. Navy, Vietnam
- Allen Stephan Bralley, U.S. Army, Korea
- William Dobraninch, U.S. Marines, Peacetime
- Charles Franklin Lowell, U.S. Army, Korea
- John Larry Schulte, U.S. Army, Peacetime
- Harvey Thomas Taylor, U.S. Army, World War II
- Anthony Troutner, U.S. Army, Vietnam
It was a final roll call for a group of forgotten heroes, thanks to some veterans who finally remembered.
“I guess our goal is to find as many of these as we can before our time is up. Until we’re unable to do it anymore, this is what we’re going to keep doing,” Topkoff said.
To learn more about the Honors Burial Project, visit the VVA Chapter 1071 website.