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Unclaimed remains of veterans in Fort Smith to finally be laid to rest

The cremated remains of several veterans that have been sitting at a local funeral home will finally be laid to rest thanks to the work of a nonprofit organization.

FORT SMITH, Ark. — Five unclaimed veterans will be laid to rest next month in the River Valley thanks to an organization that’s mission is to make sure every veteran has a proper funeral.  

“It is very heartbreaking,” Gina Gustafson said. 

The nonprofit, The Missing in America Recovery Project identifies unclaimed, cremated remains of veterans and gives them proper funerals. The organization started in Idaho in 2006. 

“These Veterans, when they signed up, they signed on the dotted line for their lives and were guaranteed they would have a proper and dignified burial and some of these haven’t gotten that. Our goal is to make sure they get that, what they are deserved,” she said. 

Gustafson is a volunteer for the organization and is planning funerals at the Fort Smith National Cemetery for five veterans and one spouse of a veteran. These unclaimed veterans were part of 55 unclaimed cremains at a Fort Smith funeral home. 

She says unclaimed veterans are an issue seen all across the country. 

Typically, unclaimed remains would end up at the county coroner’s office in the county where the person died because remains aren’t taken to funeral homes unless requested by the family, so it’s unclear how so many remains end up at funeral homes across the country. 

“Either the family just didn’t care about, they might have been separated from their family," she said. "Unfortunately, there is a lot of PTSD, there are a lot of homeless veterans."

Gustafson says even though she and her husband are not veterans, they come from a family of veterans, so this is a cause near and dear to their hearts. 

“They put their lives on the line for us, for our freedom and they deserve way better than this," she said. "So, we are very humbled and grateful that we are able to do this and give them a final resting place." 

They are still working to identify if the others are veterans at the Veterans Administration in St. Louis.  

Director of the Fort Smith National Cemetery, Marshall Murphy says this can serve as a reminder to make sure your loved ones are looked after. 

“It’s nice to see that there are people that care, that will go around to these funeral homes and connect the dots as can be very time consuming and difficult to do and they get everything is taken care of so these persons can be interned at the National Cemetery,” he said. 

The public is invited to attend the funeral for the veterans on March 4 at 11 a.m. at the Fort Smith National Cemetery. 

Students Against Drugs and Alcohol Arkansas or S.A.D.A will be escorting the veterans from the funeral home to the cemetery. 

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