Monday, May 28, 2012
Twelve years ago, some retired officers learned that not all veterans were being buried with dignity. Some remains were being shipped to Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in FedEx boxes. Admiral Rod Melendez of San Diego's Veterans Museum and Memorial Center talks to KPBS about why this was happening and what the museum is doing to help.
Adm. Melendez explains that veterans sometimes die without families, and even in San Diego, some homeless veterans are living on the street when they die.
"When you had boxes come to Fort Rosecrans without family members or anything like that, they would just put them in the cull and bury them," says Adm. Melendez.
"So there was no formal service; there was no recognition of their service. And we at the Veterans Museum felt that we needed to do something to treat them with honor, to give them the recognition that wasn't being done" he says.
One-fourth of San Diego's homeless are military veterans. Adm. Melendez says between one and four caskets will come to the Veterans Museum every month, where they now perform a full honors memorial service for these fallen veterans once a month. They take in any remains of an identified veteran that has no family or is homeless.
"We have a Navy Chaplain there. We have an Honor Guard and fire three volleys," says Adm. Melendez. "Usually it's the 82nd Airborne Honor Guard that does that for us, but we have other groups that do it too."
Glen Abbey provides a casket and brings a funeral Hearst to the museum. If they are cremated remains, they are taken to Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery. Until recently, any caskets had to be taken all the way up to Riverside National Cemetery because of limited space at Fort Rosecrans, but they can now be taken to the recently opened Miramar National Cemetery in San Diego. The ceremonies also include flowers and music.
The museum does all this in partnership with Dignity Memorial of Glen Abbey Cemetery in Bonita, Veterans Journal and local veterans groups such as the Pearl Harbor Survivors and the Marine Corps League.
The public can attend the memorial services the fourth Saturday of every month, where they read the names of all San Diego County veterans and active duty military who have passed away, and then do a full honors memorial service for any unclaimed veterans.
"Especially when you've got a veteran whose lost all his family, whether he's homeless or he's just the last family member in his line, there's nobody to say goodbye to him," explains Adm. Melendez. "So we do that."