Seven Benton County veterans will have a permanent resting place thanks to a Kennewick man.
The cremated remains of the veterans, some from World War II, had been unclaimed for as long as 24 years.
Vietnam veteran John Hundahl, area representative for the Missing in America Project, recently collected the boxes of remains from the Benton County coroner to drive to Medical Lake.
There, those and about 50 other veterans from across the state will receive a full military burial in September at the Washington State Veterans Cemetery.
Never miss a local story.
About nine months ago, Hundahl began calling coroner’s offices and funeral homes around Eastern Washington, looking to see if they had unclaimed remains.
He then checks the names with the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis to see if they served in the military. Veterans are eligible for a free military funeral.
“It’s just constantly calling and talking to people and seeing what they have,” he said.
His trip to Medical Lake with the Benton County veterans was the first Hundahl has made. But he is also planning to pick up the remains of eight veterans identified in Yakima County for burial.
In Franklin County, Coroner Dan Blasdel said the county contracts with area funeral homes to keep unclaimed remains for two years. They are then buried in a public crypt.
Hundahl had been involved with the Veterans of Foreign Wars for several years, joining shortly after retiring in the Tri-Cities from his job as an engineer in Spokane.
He learned about the Missing in America Project from Rudy Lopez, the state veterans cemetery’s director.
“I did a little bit of research to see if there were really remains stored away, and I just started making calls,” he said.
The Missing in America Project has buried the remains of about 2,300 veterans nationally — 89 of them in Washington, Hundahl said.
“When I read that it’s a World War II veteran you just located, you get a little bit of a sense of history and satisfaction,” he said. “The thought of people just being back in the cupboard just doesn’t sit right with me.”
Benton County Coroner John Hansens was pleased with Hundahl’s efforts. He still is storing the cremated remains of 32 other people who were never claimed by a relative.
He would like to see a local funeral home set up a crypt where all the remains can be given a permanent resting place.
“I think that is a wonderful resolution for those (veterans), and we would like to do something for the others,” he said.