Tom Vandenberg, a Tri-Cities Patriot Guard motorcycle rider, has eight names patched into the back of his black leather vest.
“The people I carry on my back were (killed in action),” Vandenberg said.
Vandenberg, who lives in Touchet, also held a brown, square metal box tucked in his arm. The top read “Robert Hill” — the name of a World War II Navy construction battalion sailor, or Seabee.
Hill died in combat, but nobody ever claimed his cremated remains.
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More than 50 Patriot Guard riders showed up Wednesday morning in Pasco to honor the remains of Hill and 20 other unclaimed Eastern Washington veterans in a sendoff ceremony.
The ceremony was followed by a nearly two-hour motorcycle processional to the Washington State Veterans Cemetery in Medical Lake, where the remains will be interred next month.
The ceremonies and procession were part of the continuing Missing in America project, whose members look for unclaimed remains of war veterans at funeral homes so they can be laid to rest in veterans cemeteries.
Vandenberg served as a SeaBee in the Vietnam War, and requested to escort Hill’s remains.
So far the organization has searched 1,994 funeral homes, found 13,450 remains, identified 3,123 and interred 2,804, according to its website at miap.us.
Five of the remains escorted Thursday came from the Tri-Cities area.
John Hundahl, the project’s local coordinator, said law enforcement agencies, the American Legion and other community members volunteered to pay respects and help take the remains to the veterans cemetery.
Art Moore, a Navy veteran, transported the remains to the ceremony from Kennewick in a restored 1967 Navy ambulance.
The riders then secured the cremated remains on the backs of their motorcycles to take them to Medical Lake.
When the Vietnam people came back, we were spit on, we were cursed, we were disrespected. We will never allow that to happen again.
Tom Vandenberg, Tri-Cities Patriot Guard rider from Touchet
Neil “Stretch” Miller, captain of the Tri-Cities Patriot Guard riders, organized the Columbia Basin event. With the exception of Vandenberg, most of the escort assignments were unspecific, he said.
The Patriot Guard is comprised of many supporters of veterans and law enforcement, he said. Anyone can become a member.
“We’re taking these veterans and making sure they’re having a honorable burial,” he said.
That’s one of the biggest reasons Vandenberg and others like him got involved.
“When the Vietnam people came back, we were spit on, we were cursed, we were disrespected,” Vandenberg said of his own experiences. “We will never allow that to happen again. Everyone will have a welcome home.”
Following a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, a group prayer and a moment of silence, Miller briefed everyone before the departure.
“Just get there safely,” Miller said. “It’s important that we arrive intact.”
With a Pasco police escort in front, the bikers took off at 10:30 a.m. from Thunder Alley Motorsports on St. Thomas Drive and began their trek on Interstate 182.
Pasco police officer Raymond Aparacio displayed a “proudly served” magnet on his own patrol car. He served a tour of duty in the Iraq War.
“It’s a great opportunity for (police) to show support,” Aparacio said.
Trever Sweeney, another Pasco police officer, enjoyed seeing the different groups in the area come together from all walks of life, he said. Sweeney’s father served in the Vietnam War.
“It’s an honor to help out,” Sweeney said.
Pasco police planned to turn back at the Franklin County border north of Connell, Aparacio said. The riders were to meet up with at least 50 other riders from Ephrata and Olympia at the Love’s truck stop on Interstate 90 in Ritzville.
Spokane County sheriff’s deputies were scheduled to meet the riders at their county line.
The final commitment ceremony at the Medical Lake veterans cemetery is scheduled for 1 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 13. More than 55 unclaimed veterans will be honored.
Kennewick, Richland, Columbia Basin veterans honored
Byron Eugene Hagan, Army, Specialist 4, Vietnam War
William Anable, Army, Private, World War II
Arnold Grob, Army Air Corps, Staff Sergeant., World War II
Ricke Simons, Marine Corps, Corporal, Vietnam War
James Chames, Marine Corps, Corporal, Vietnam War
Colfax, Pullman veterans honored
Donald Davis, Navy, Seaman, Korean War
Jerald Rafferty, Navy, Fireman Apprentice, Vietnam War
Henry Lawrence Dopps, Army, Private, World War II
Sandra Cook, Air Force, Tech Sergeant, Vietnam and Persian Gulf wars
Darl Dee Chamberlain, spouse of a veteran
Wenatchee, Chelan, Brewster veterans honored
Joanne Copple, spouse of a veteran (she will be placed with her husband, who was interred last year)
Nelson Quast, Army Air Corps, Technical Sergeant, World War II
Edith Quast, spouse of a veteran
Ross J. Jones, Navy, Machinist Mate, World War II
Jerry Jefferson Scott, Navy, Seaman, Vietnam War
Edd Culpin, Army, Technical Sergeant, World War II
Robert Hill, Navy, Seabee, World War II
Dillard Lloyd, Navy, Torpedoman, Cold War era
Hillman Graham, Navy, Seaman, World War II
Luca Ciaccio, Navy, Boiler Technician, World War II
Tauno Salo, Army, World War II