GRAND ISLAND, Neb. — Three veterans were laid to rest in Fort McPherson National Cemetery near Maxwell, Neb., on Friday because of the efforts of Missing in America Project Nebraska.
The cremated remains of Robert Earl Woods, a U.S. Army veteran who served in the Vietnam War era; Dennis Lee Townsend, a U.S. Navy veteran who also served in the Vietnam War era; and John Henry McIntosh, a U.S. Army veteran who served in the Korean War era, were accompanied across Nebraska by an honor guard of motorcycle riders from the Patriot Guard and the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association.
The day began with a funeral service at Good Shepherd Funeral Home in Omaha, and additional riders were picked up in Lincoln, York, Grand Island, Kearney and Lexington before the burial at Fort McPherson.
The Missing in America Project is a national volunteer organization that has helped inter 1,685 veterans all across America, including some who fought as far back as the Civil War.
The project is needed because of the number of veterans who, for one reason or another, have become separated from family members who would normally make funeral arrangements.
Bill Henry of Papillion, a Vietnam veteran who served in the U.S. Army, and Larry Schaber of Omaha, an 11-year Marine Corps veteran, are the two Missing in America representatives for Nebraska.
“Nebraska is the last state in the lower 48 to have the Missing in America Project,” Henry said during a short interview at the Bosselman Travel Center near the Interstate 80/Highway 281 interchange.
The Nebraska chapter has existed only since Jan. 27, he said, and the burial of Woods, Townsend and McIntosh was the first arranged by Missing in America Nebraska.
Henry recalled his uncle, a highly decorated veteran of World War II and the Korean War. His uncle had trouble adjusting to civilian life, getting divorced four times. Henry said sometimes years would pass before he would see his uncle, who would suddenly show up on his family's doorstep for a visit.
“We didn't mind,” Henry said. “We loved him.”
When Henry's uncle died in Sparks, Nev., his family found out only because law enforcement discovered a Christmas card that his mother had sent five years earlier.
The return address on the envelope enabled officers to inform the family so funeral arrangements could be made.
The Department of Veterans Affairs has strict rules about the handling of veterans' remains, Henry said. Missing in America makes an exhaustive effort to find any living relatives. If family members are located, they are asked about their wishes for burial arrangements.
If no relatives are found, Henry said, Missing in America can apply to the VA for permission to make arrangements. Such veterans can only be buried in national or state cemeteries.
Since Henry and Schaber began working together, they have been able to make final arrangements for 10 veterans. Henry said families assumed responsibility for funeral and burial arrangements for seven. The three other veterans are Woods, Townsend and McIntosh.
Henry said Missing in America Project Nebraska is financed by donations. However, he said he wanted to publicize Friday's services to help win the trust of Nebraska funeral homes that also may be holding on to the cremated remains of veterans.