For decades, they were numbers on copper canisters hidden in a storage room at Oregon's state-run mental hospital. Unclaimed, unknown, unhonored.
But on Wednesday, the cremated remains of four military veterans who served as long ago as World War I were laid to rest with full honors at Willamette National Cemetery in Portland. They had been discovered in 2004 among the unclaimed remains -- some dating back to the late 1800s -- of 3,600 patients of Oregon State Hospital, the crumbling institution where the film "One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest" was filmed, reports the Associated Press.
But it took painstaking work by U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs staffers in St. Louis to match the numbers on the urns, which corresponded to names in the hospital's patient ledgers, to identify the four men with confidence.
They were Army Pvt. James Edward Butler, who served just before World War II; Navy Boatswain’s Mate 2nd Class Frank Martin, who served during and after World War II; Army Sgt. William Julius Madson, who served from 1918-1919; and sailor Lanier Dick Johnson, who served in the Navy during and after World War I from 1917 to 1919 and whose rank is unknown.
A fifth veteran whose remains were believed to have been identified turned out to have been claimed by relatives after his death in 1962. World War I-era Navy veteran Everett Irvin was buried near Coos Bay, Oregon, decades ago. The ashes that had been identified as belonging to him remain unknown, an indication of the faulty record-keeping for wards of the state, notes OregonLive.com.
The VA provides proper burial for the remains of unclaimed and indigent veterans who served honorably in the military and has been on a nationwide hunt to identify and properly bury the unclaimed remains of military veterans, reports NBC News.
In June, the cremated remains of 13 veterans that had sat unclaimed in an Akron, Ohio, funeral home were honored with a military burial, reported News Channel 5 in Ohio.
At the funeral in Oregon, the deputy director of the state's Department of Veterans’ Affairs, Val Conley, accepted the folded U.S. flag on behalf of the four men whose relatives could not be located.
“I think about those guys sitting down in that cold, dark basement for 50 years and nobody claiming them," she told the Associated Press. “It saddens me. It saddens me there was no family."