WALLA WALLA -- An Army soldier who fought in World War II and died 10 years after the war ended finally has a resting place.
For more than a half-century -- 56 years to be exact -- John Hardy's cremated remains were stored first at a funeral home, and then transferred to the Walla Walla Coroner's Office, where they stayed on a shelf, until now.
The remains were unclaimed because officials couldn't find Hardy's next-of-kin or because they were abandoned, said Coroner Richard Greenwood.
But Hardy and 10 other veterans now are buried at the Washington State Veterans Cemetery in Medical Lake, thanks to efforts by Greenwood and the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 466 in College Place.
"They took care of us. They served their country," said Greenwood, who took office in January. "To be abandoned on some shelf in a storage room is just hard to swallow. It's unacceptable."
In fact, there are 295 additional unclaimed cremated remains being held at the Walla Walla Coroner's Office that Greenwood is trying to get buried. Some date back to 1945, he said.
"They've been here forever," he said. "One of the goals I had was to give them a simple, yet respectful, Christian burial."
It's not unusual for coroners' offices to have unclaimed remains, but the number of remains that Walla Walla has is high, coroners say.
The Franklin County Coroner's Office has no unclaimed remains because it has an agreement with the funeral homes to keep the remains and the county pays for disposition of the remains through an indigent remains fund, Coroner Dan Blasdel said.
In Benton County, Coroner John Hansens said he has 32 unclaimed cremated remains that go back about 10 years. He is working to make contact with local funeral homes to have them put to rest.
Greenwood said he talked to a friend about the unclaimed remains in Walla Walla and the friend's father, who is a veteran, asked how many were veterans.
Three days later, Paul Hellie and Joe Wieblenger, members of VFW Post 466, went through the records and determined who was eligible for burial in the veterans cemetery.
"When I heard how long these veterans' remains were just sitting in storage it just upset me," said Hellie, a Korean War veteran.
The 11 they found are:
* Earl Foster, who fought in World War I and died Feb. 13, 1952. (His branch of service was not known.)
* John Hardy, Army, who fought in World War II and died May 20, 1955.
* Carl Vaughn, Army, who fought World War II and died March 30, 1969.
* Kenneth Tinkey, Army, who fought in the Korean War and died Oct. 19, 1973.
* Dale Swim, Army, who fought in World War II and died Dec. 7, 1974.
* Clausen Bunnell, Army, who fought in World War II and died Feb. 15, 1975.
* David Maxwell, Army, who fought in World War II and died Feb. 22, 1975.
* Jack Daniels, Army, who died May 28, 1975.
* Michael Whealey, Army, who fought in the Vietnam War and died Sept. 19, 1977.
* William Everheart, Coast Guard, who died Oct. 13, 1977.
* James Stevens, U.S. Army, who died Aug. 19, 1988
On Wednesday, Hellie and Ken Silver, an Army combat medic who served in the Korean War, drove the veterans' remains up to Medical Lake, near Spokane, for the burial. Wieblenger escorted them out of Walla Walla.
"We had a ceremony ... with a salute and a respectful saying goodbye," Hellie said. He added that a service with full military honors is planned for the veterans at the cemetery in September. "I feel pretty honored to be able to do something like that."
Greenwood said he plans to work with the veterans cemetery to go through the list of the other 295 unclaimed remains to see if any others can be confirmed as veterans or spouses of veterans, who also can be buried in the cemetery.
All the remains are identified with the exception of one or two, Greenwood said.
He also is working with the city and county and a private donor who contacted him about donating a cemetery plot for a mass burial. Greenwood said additional donations could be used to get a liner for the plot and a headstone.
"We'd love to have a headstone, although it'd be impossible to put everybody's name on the headstone," Greenwood said. "We want a decent respectful burial to finally put them to rest after all these years."