Nine veterans who gave of themselves in life and in death finally received a proper military funeral at Riverside National Cemetery on Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2008. View images >>

The veterans received military interment after donating their bodies to Western University of Health Sciences’ Willed Body Program for research and educational purposes. More than 200 people came to pay their respects to these veterans.

The service included a 21-gun salute, the playing of “Taps,” the folding of the flag, the reading of the veterans’ names and a bell remembrance. Honored guests, many of whom served in the military, received the flags as representatives of friends and family of the veterans.

Rear Adm. Clinton Adams, DO, U.S. Navy (Ret.), Dean of the College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific at WesternU, received one of the flags. He told the audience that earlier in the day he talked to the incoming COMP class about service and commitment, which the veterans laid to rest Wednesday exemplify.

“We need to continue to celebrate these lives of service, these lives of commitment to a cause and a country greater than any of us as an individual,” he said.

Another veteran who received a flag was Sgt. Maj. Guenther Griebau, U.S. Marine Corps (Ret.), a director of the Inland Empire Chapter of Vietnam Veterans of America and a governing board member of the Riverside National Cemetery Support Committee.

“These people definitely went beyond the call of duty to donate their body to science,” Griebau said. “They earned (a military service) and deserved it. That’s the least we could do.”

The impetus for the service came from Niña McCoy, WesternU Body Donation Program Director, who felt a special affinity for these veterans because of her many family members who serve in the military. Her husband, Paul Adkins, served as a medic and paratrooper in the U.S. Army 82nd Airborne Division, and her father, Sgt. 1st Class John McCoy, served as an Army Ranger in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, where he was killed. He was inducted into the Ranger Hall of Fame in July 1999.

“The military is a huge family,” McCoy said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a young soldier or an old World War II veteran in his 80s, we’re all family. We all understand what sacrifice is about.”

In the Willed Body Program, the remains are cremated after studies are completed, generally a period of one to two years. Cremains are scattered at sea or returned to the family upon written request.

But the cremains of these veterans were not claimed by their families and WesternU was not able to contact them, McCoy said. The letters she sent to family members were returned as undeliverable, and phone numbers were disconnected.

McCoy verified that the nine veterans were eligible to be buried at Riverside National Cemetery and reached out to the Missing in America Project (MIAP), a volunteer organization that has the goal of locating, identifying and interring the unclaimed cremated remains of American veterans through the joint efforts of private, state and federal organizations.

Wednesday’s service was the first in Southern California for MIAP, and the attention it received will help the organization gain exposure in this area, said Rick Proietti, MIAP California State Coordinator. He hoped more people would become motivated to help MIAP in its mission.

“When they enlisted they signed a contract. If it comes to it, they will give their lives to their country,” Proietti said. “In return, they were promised certain benefits. One was a proper burial.”

McCoy also reached out to others for assistance. She received donated urn bags from SinoSource International in Burlingame, Calif. and temporary urns donated by Macera Crematorium in Santa Ana.

All of the hard work ensured these nine veterans received the honors they deserve, McCoy said.

“If I can honor them one last time and give them a worthy farewell, then I feel like I’ve done my job,” she said.

Honored, Remembered & Recognized

Tech 5 Albert Charles Bricker, U.S. Army, World War II

Maj. Thomas Bruce Bright, U.S. Army, Korea/Vietnam

Spc. 4th Class Rick Dennis Champagne, U.S. Army, Vietnam

Master Sgt. Charles F. Duff, Army Air Corps, WWII

Seaman 1 Harold Francis Hanlin, U.S. Navy, WWII

Pvt. Willie Jones, U.S. Army, WWII

Cpl. Robert James Mathews, U.S. Army, Korea

Seaman 1 Kenneth Owen Nelson, U.S. Navy, Korea

Musician 1st Class Wayne Weikko Ronka, U.S. Navy, WWII