For decades, the remains of some veterans have sat inside a Denver mortuary, unclaimed by their families or anyone who knew them. Thursday, they were given the burial they deserved, but never received.
"Well, they were never claimed. They died, they were cremated, and no one ever came to pick up the cremains," said Jim Topkoff with Vietnam Veterans of America. "Our job at the Vietnam Vets is to find the veterans in that group and honor them the way we are going to today."
Topkoff and the Vietnam Veterans of America search through mortuaries, looking for the cremains of veterans that haven’t been honored.
Thursday, they joined members of an honor guard and the public to lay the cremains to rest at Fort Logan National Cemetery.
"Ideally somebody would’ve picked them up years ago and taken care of them properly. But this is an honor for us to be able to honor them with a proper burial," Topkoff said. "We’ve never met them. We don’t know much if anything about them. In fact, nothing about them really. But we know that they served their country honorably and that’s why we’re here."
The cremains that have sat in funeral homes for decades are transferred to new urns handmade by members of the Colorado Woodworkers Guild.
"We’ve probably made several hundred of them," said guild member Laura Peterson, who makes some of the urns in her backyard workshop. "They’re all different. Just like the guys that are in them."
The urns are built from wood and engraved with the branch of the military the veteran was in. A military tag is created to label the urn.
"All of us just feel like it’s the least little thing we could do," Peterson said. "They all look different. They’re all beautiful."
The Vietnam Veterans of America believe there could be hundreds if not thousands of unclaimed cremains in the same situation. They’re prepared to give the full burial service to all of them they can identify as veterans.