The cremated remains of 10 New Jersey veterans — five of them Jewish — were buried with full military honors Nov. 6 in a ceremony that began at the Bernheim-Apter-Kreitzman Suburban Funeral Chapel in Livingston.
Five hours later, small wooden boxes containing their ashes were buried at the Brigadier General William C. Doyle Memorial Cemetery in Wrightstown.
Richard Schuele, location manager at the funeral home, told NJ Jewish News that “the purpose of the ceremony is to give these 10 veterans a proper burial.”
The ashes of the men — who fought in World Wars I and II — had been unclaimed for as long as 55 years.
The services were sponsored by New Jersey’s Mission of Honor, an organization based in Lodi that has been searching for the unclaimed ashes of veterans since 2009. Their corps of volunteers examine military records to determine whether the vets they have located received honorable discharges.
“We have found hundreds of them,” said Francis Carrasco of Lodi, a Vietnam War Army veteran who chairs the Mission of Honor.
To date his organization has located the ashes of 401 veterans and given 168 of them military burials.
“There was a very long process of attempting to contact family members,” said Schuele.
“We reunited 233 others with family members who never realized that their great-great-grandfather or their great-uncle was left abandoned in a funeral parlor.”
The reasons for such abandonments are varied. In some cases, next-of-kin had died before they could be located. Sometimes bitter ex-spouses or other estranged relatives declined to accept the ashes, said Schuele.
“Every veteran who has fought for their country has given their lives and time. For these veterans to be forgotten and have their ashes lying around on shelves in funeral parlors is disrespectful; it is unacceptable,” Carrasco said.
Among the 25 people who attended the ceremony was Murray Sklar, a 90-year-old Marine Corps veteran who fought in the Pacific during World War II. He is a member of the Jewish War Veterans and the Veterans of Foreign Wars. For 27 years he chaired veterans’ programs at Temple Beth Shalom in his hometown of Livingston.
“This day is a memory of the assaults and the friends I have lost,” he told NJJN. “It is a very emotional time for me.”
Deborah Shapiro, a member of the Livingston City Council, said she was attending the observance because “I want to honor the veterans. My father was a Korean War vet, and we have people active in all of the veterans’ organizations in Livingston.
“This is a very important service and a very important thing that is being done.”
The organization’s chaplain, Jerry Skorch of Marlton, read aloud the names, hometowns, and occupations of each of the deceased veterans.
Among them were World War I Navy veteran Herbert Diamond of Caldwell and World War II Army veterans Sidney Grover of East Orange, Paul Konski of New Providence, Anson Rauschberg of Short Hills, and Milton Solnick of East Orange.
Then three riflemen from the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2856 in Livingston stepped outside the funeral home to fire off three rounds apiece. A bugler played “Taps,” and a bagpiper dressed in kilts performed “Amazing Grace” and “God Bless America” as Sklar and other veterans solemnly carried wooden boxes containing the men’s ashes from the funeral parlor into waiting hearses.
Similar services took place at the Michael Hegarty Funeral Home in Old Bridge and Leber Funeral Home in Union City before the burials in the Wrightstown cemetery.