Special to the Sentinel
Nineteen veterans joined their brothers and sisters at the hallowed grounds of the Northern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery in a solemn ceremony Friday that remembered them for their sacrifices during three different wars and in peacetime.
As part of the Missing in Nevada project, the Nevada Veterans Coalition honored the veterans — whose remains had gone unclaimed for years, if not decades. NVC member and master of ceremonies Tom Draughon, who served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War, said it’s important to give these veterans a final resting place.
“It’s extraordinarily important to remember our veterans who gave of portion of their lives for this county,” Draughon said. “I see 19 of my brothers here, and they were left unattended for a long, long time, one of them for 45 years — it’s not right, it’s sad.”
Draughon said a new family of veterans and guests who attended Friday’s ceremony are remembering the forgotten veterans and ensuring they receive a proper military service. The ceremony also drew 13 military volunteers, seven from Naval Air Station Fallon and six from the Nevada Army National Guard.
Tracy Spears, regional representative for Congressman Mark Amodei, said the NNVMC has a special place in her heart. She said her mother’s husband has been buried at the cemetery for 11 years, and her father, a Marine Corps combat veteran during the Korean War, will also be interred there. On her trip to Fernley, Spears said she thought of the 19 men and the honor they would be receiving during Friday’s ceremony.
“Missing in America is to locate, identify and inter unclaimed remains of American veterans and to provide honor and respect of those who served their country and to secure a resting place for those forgotten here.”
During the speech, guests learned how the 19 veterans combined for 70 years of service, mostly during wartime.
“It’s crucial to honor the fallen heroes, but we need to demonstrate this commitment to our younger generation of Americans,” said John Karg, Veterans Advocacy and Support Team supervisor for Northern Nevada.
Karg said younger people are likely to serve in the military depending how they perceive earlier wars.
Johnny Paul of Sparks may be one such person. The 11-year-old student at Sepulveda Elementary School has educated himself on military history and the sacrifices servicemen and women have made over the decades. He had asked to be part of Friday’s ceremony to receive the U.S. flag.
“It’s a great honor … it makes me feel good,” he said of the military ceremony. “All these veterans were never claimed by anyone, but they will be able to rest.”
Johnny’s grandfather, Thom Riddle, said they wanted to attend previous ceremonies but couldn’t because of Johnny’s schooling. They saw an opportunity last week.
“We made a phone call because Johnny wanted to come out,” said Riddle, a Vietnam veteran.
After four members of the NVC honor guard folded the flag, and Jerry Finley presented it to Johnny. After Jerry Finley stepped back, Johnny saluted him and Finley returned the salute. The other three NVC members and Johnny rendered salutes to each other. The NVC allowed Johnny to keep the flag, and Riddle said his grandson want to place it in a shadow box. Riddle said Johnny has developed a thirst for military history and even enjoys listening to the music that was popular during the Vietnam War.
Jennifer Kandt, executive director of the Nevada State Board of Funeral and Cemetery Services, said she was both honored to offer a few comments at the ceremony. She said the Missing in Nevada project is important for providing closure.
“We have more work to do,” she pointed out, “so that the veterans that are no longer forgotten can be remembered her in this eternal resting place.”
Kandt also acknowledged the importance of today’s younger generation who want to learn more about the military. She introduced her 14-year-old son who wants to join the Navy SEALs when he’s older.
“He’s a witness to the important work to honor these veterans,” she said.
Kandt also read a quote from the English author George Eliot that symbolizes the manner in which people will remember the servicemen being honored by the NVC and their new family: “Our Dead are never Dead to us unless we have forgotten them.”
Among the 19 veterans are two World War I veterans and 14 who served during World War II. Twelve served in the Army, six in the Navy and one in the U.S. Air Force.