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Long Journey Home: Veterans' Cremains Laid To Rest After Years In Courthouse Basement

Carson Frame / TPR News
Members of the Patriot Guard Riders welcome eight veterans' cremains to Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery.

At Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery Friday, volunteers from the Missing In America Project laid to rest eight veterans whose unclaimed cremains they located and identified.

Up until recently, the veterans’ cremains sat in the basement of the Potter County Courthouse on a shelf. Those cremains were escorted from Amarillo to San Antonio by members of the Patriot Guard Riders, Bexar County Sheriffs and others.

Together, they represented four branches of the military, with combined service in the Cold War, Korea and Vietnam.

When they died homeless on the streets, no one claimed them. They were cremated as wards of the county.

Last year, Joel Carver, the co-owner of A To D Mortuary Services in Amarillo, noticed the unclaimed cremains as part of his work. The Amarillo Globe-News reported that Carver “contracts with his mortuary service company for the cremation of the homeless or indigent.”

Carver started researching and requested help from the Missing In America Project, a nonprofit whose purpose is to locate, identify and inter the unclaimed cremated remains of American veterans with help from private, state and federal organizations.

Joyce Earnest, the Texas state coordinator for MIAP, said her organization acts as an intermediary between funeral homes, courthouses and military burial services.

“We’ll go into a funeral home and inventory all the cremains they have stored. Then we send the information for verification,” she said. “Just last year, MIAP found and interred one (set of cremains) that had been sitting on a shelf since 1936.”

Once MIAP locates someone’s cremains, they send the accompanying information — name, social security, date of birth and date of death — to Jefferson Barracks, a records storage site for the Department of Veterans Affairs. Jefferson Barracks determines whether that cremain belongs to a veteran.

Earnest spoke at Friday’s memorial service and accepted burial flags in the absence of the veterans’ family members.

The eight men honored were Don Stewart, Cody Washington Black, Robert Pete Brunner, Floyd Ray White, Andrew Benson Bramlett, George Machoul Aswad II and Everett Earl Criss and Dana Dean Milton.

The hearse and processional made their way to a processional, where a memorial service was planned.
Credit Carson Frame / TPR News
Carson Frame / TPR News

“You served your country,” she said. “You expected to receive a military burial, recognition by our government of your commitment to our great country. You expected to have honor and respect paid to you as a result of your service to our great country.”

The Fort Sam Houston Memorial Services Detachment provided honors and taps, while the McArthur High School junior ROTC served as honoree color guard.

Since its founding in 2007, the Missing in America Project has identified 3,798 veteran cremains and interred 3,524, according to their website. In Texas alone, they’ve investigated 618 cremains.

Carson Frame can be reached at carson@tpr.org or on Twitter @carson_frame

Carson Frame was Texas Public Radio's military and veterans' issues reporter from July 2017 until March 2024.