ROCK HILL — For almost 10 years, the cremated remains of an American Army soldier who served three years, including in Vietnam, have remained unclaimed.
John Joseph Cardenas died on Pearl Harbor Day, Dec. 7, 2004. Nobody ever came to the York County Coroners Office to claim him, or bury him.
Cardenas was a specialist in the Army, rank E-4. Nobody, for a decade, helped bury him.
The cremains of Cardenas, along with cremains of three other military veterans from York County whose families either could not be found, did not exist, or did not claim them, will be buried June 6 at the Fort Jackson National Cemetery in Columbia. It has taken months, but the Missing in America Project that works nationwide to identify deceased veterans and ensure proper military burials has come through. The group worked with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to verify honorable military service after surveying the list of unclaimed deceased in York County. The York County Coroners Office confirmed identities and verified that the ashes had never been claimed.
Those from York County to be buried June 6 also include: Sgt. Robert Earl Eames, an Army veteran of the Vietnam War from 1964 to 1968 who died in 2006; Sgt. Wade Lamont Harrington an Army veteran who served in the Vietnam War from 1964 to 1967, who died in 2013; and Technician Fifth Grade Marion C. Bomar, who died in 2011 after serving three years in the U.S. Army during World War II.
Men such as Bomar saved the world from fascism, and nobody ever claimed him after he died. Eames, Harrington and Cardenas went to that awful Vietnam War created by rich politicians, where regular guys fought and died.
We are proud, honored, to have found these veterans who finally will get the burial they each deserve, said Steve Goulet, a retired Army sergeant major who serves as South Carolinas state coordinator for the Missing in America Project.
The June 6 burials with full honors will feature honor guards, motorcycle escorts from the Patriot Guard made up mainly of veterans, and other dignitaries. But the real dignitaries are these four dead veterans. The indignity of not being claimed, of being left as indigent dead, is finally over.
The burial is the seventh such ceremony in the state since 2012, when Gov. Nikki Haley signed a law authorizing veterans service organizations to receive cremains of unclaimed veterans from county coroners. The four veterans are among more than 30 sets of unclaimed cremains held by York County Coroner Sabrina Gasts office.
Burials in South Carolina and across the nation for unclaimed veterans are all done at national cemeteries in sections devoted to veterans. Kornegay & Moseley Funeral Home is providing the vehicles for the Missing in America burial. Young people from the S.C. Department of Juvenile Justice who built the urns for the veterans ashes will attend.
American Legion Posts from North Augusta and Chapin will assist. They have been crucial in helping the Missing in America Project continue to identify veterans, said Goulet, the state coordinator. The posts will lead a procession June 6.
Almost 2,000 veterans nationwide have been buried with honors since the Missing in America Projects inception in 2007.
As America pauses this weekend to reflect on Memorial Day and the national holiday dedicated to military men and women who died in action, the burial of these four men who died in York County long after military service finally shows that the service of each was honorable, said Joe Medlin, director of York County Veterans Affairs who also is command sergeant major for the Rock Hill-based Army National Guard 178th Combat Engineers. Medlin and 160 other area soldiers returned in 2013 from a years deployment in Afghanistan.
Medlin, whose job is to get veterans and their families the benefits earned through military service, will lead a local group of veterans attending the June 6 burials.
It is unfortunate that anyone ever goes through life and is unclaimed after death, Medlin said. And for veterans, who served their country with dignity, it is especially sad that for years in some cases those veterans were never claimed and given the proper burials. These veterans deserve this honor. It is long overdue.
Andrew Dys • 803-329-4065