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Receiving the honors they've earned

Volunteers work to identify unclaimed veterans, get them burial they deserve

Jerry Bauer, with the Patriot Guard Riders, joins volunteers, veterans and cemetery staff in putting on the annual Memorial Day Ceremony at the Washington State Veterans Cemetery in Medical Lake held May 28. Photo credit: Lightbenders Photography

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Anyone can make a difference by serving just one veteran. Whether serving him or her in life or after death, the mission of interring unclaimed veterans will never conclude or diminish.

"Everyone's life matters, particularly our veterans whose stories often go untold ... the warrior ethos of never leave a man or woman behind is not only imprinted on servicemembers, but is also woven into the fabric of veterans," said Washington State Veterans Cemetery Director Rudy Lopez. "These interment services provide dignity, honor (and) respect as well as closure on a life that mattered so that their service is never forgotten."

Rendering military funeral honors for a fallen servicemember is a time-honored tradition that was codified into Public Law 106-65 as part of the 2000 National Defense Authorization Act. Military honors are a way to show the nation's deep gratitude to those who, in times of war and peace, have faithfully defended our country. This ceremonial paying of respect is the final demonstration a grateful nation can provide to a veteran. Each veteran, regardless of his or her life's circumstances at the time of death, deserves to have a respectful burial and receive honors from a grateful nation.

Unfortunately, when individuals go unclaimed at any point within the professional death care continuum, the military service of these patriots sometimes goes unrecognized and gets lost in the shuffle.

There are several volunteers across the state who step in and help to ensure that unclaimed veterans and family members are identified and provided with the burial they deserve. One particular volunteer worked with an Eastern Washington funeral home to help locate dozens of veterans and family members so they could be interred in ceremonies at the State Veterans Cemetery in Medical Lake.

"Rick Valentine reached out to the cemetery in December 2016, sharing that he was working with Fairmount Memorial Association and had a list of unclaimed remains that he was researching to determine whether any were veterans or immediate family members of a veteran," said Lopez. "After countless hours of research, he began forwarding ancestry information from Internet searches to the cemetery so the WDVA could verify burial eligibility by collaborating on research through the National Archives with the National Personnel Records Center."   

Valentine is not only helping to provide these long-deceased veterans with a dignified final resting place, but, through this recovery program, he has also helped reconnect families, friends and "battle buddies" with those interred.

The program has enabled families to locate long-lost loved ones by virtue of recording these interments on a nationwide veteran gravesite locator at Positive searches on this site have provided family and friends with answers and given them piece of mind knowing that their loved one's service was honored and dignified in perpetuity at this national shrine.

"Additionally, we have a few cases where families have recovered those remains for interments closer to home or with other family members," added Lopez. "This initiative provides healing on some level for veterans who may have lost a battle buddy and couldn't be there for the family at the interment and now are able to participate in the identification, transport and interment of comrades-in-arms."

The Washington Department of Veterans Affairs has strengthened partnerships with state and federal agencies and across the death care industry in Washington state to collaborate on gathering records to determine eligibility.    

Volunteers are typically needed throughout the year to support the cemetery in any number of ways based on the volunteer's interest and area of expertise. Those interested in volunteering should contact Rudy Lopez at  For more information about the Washington State Veterans Cemetery, visit

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