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Telling Alaska’s Story: Making sure veterans without families receive an honorable burial

Service Members fold the ceremonial flag at an Unaccompanied  Veterans Service at the Fort...
Service Members fold the ceremonial flag at an Unaccompanied Veterans Service at the Fort Richardson National Cemetery(ktuu)
Published: May. 2, 2022 at 3:07 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Under federal law, any eligible military veteran is entitled to a military funeral if the family requests it. Director of the Fort Richardson National Cemetery Virginia Walker said that veterans who die alone or have no family left to request a military funeral are then interred with a special service for “unaccompanied veterans.”

“If they are a veteran, and they served our country honorably, or a family member that’s eligible of a veteran ... The state has agreed, if they are at the funeral home for 90 days and no one claims them, we can go and claim them and bury them in the national cemetery honorably,” Walker said.

The service for unaccompanied veterans is held at the cemetery once a month. It’s open to the public. Walker puts out messages on social media to let people know.

Allan Klatt is a regular who estimates he’s attended 30 or 40 unaccompanied veteran’s services at the cemetery over the years. Klatt said that it doesn’t matter that he doesn’t know the people being buried. As a veteran himself, he simply wants to give them the respect they deserve.

“We should also remember the past, and all of our families that we’ve committed to supporting,” he said.

Alaska Veteran’s Affairs Director Verdie Bowen said an honorable burial is part of the guarantee the government makes that veterans will be taken care of. Bowen said that if there isn’t family to show support, others will come in their stead.

“When you are dealing with unclaimed remains, for us it isn’t really unclaimed, they’re our family members,” Bowen said. “They served with us, they served in our branches of the service. We know who they are and so, when it’s time for them to be interred in the National Cemetery, they need us around because we all are a family.”

The monthly service fulfills a promise that no one will be left behind. Unaccompanied veterans’ services are held on the last Wednesday of every month at the Fort Richardson National Cemetery. Walker said anyone is welcome, but they will need to secure a pass to get on base.

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