Unclaimed For Years, Veterans Remains Finally Honored

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Dayton National Cemetery. Ten U.S. veterans will be buried there Monday in a military ceremony after their remains went unclaimed for years.(Photo: flicker: bobosh_t)
Dayton National Cemetery. Ten U.S. veterans will be buried there Monday in a military ceremony after their remains went unclaimed for years.(Photo: flicker: bobosh_t)

This morning a special ceremony will take place at a military cemetery in Dayton. Veterans who died decades ago will finally be buried. The servicemen were not missing, their cremated remains have been in plain sight, sitting on shelves in Columbus area funeral homes. A group of volunteers has taken up the cause of the unclaimed remains- trying to find the vets’ families, give them a proper burial.

Staff Sgt. Russell Andrews

Russell Andrews spent 20 years in the Army and Air Force before he retired in 1971. He died in 1991. But his ashes sat in a Columbus funeral home for years. No one ever claimed his remains, that is until the Missing In America Project discovered them along with those of a dozen others.

We don’t know a lot Staff Sergeant Andrews, there’s not a lot to go on. The key to finding out more about him came down to two things: an address and a military history professor.

Andrews lived on Louis Drive in Columbus. County records showed his daughter’s name, Valerie Andrews, on the deed.

For years, Valerie and the rest of the family did not have a lot of contact with Andrews. In fact, they didn’t know for some time that he had even died.

“There was a time particularly after the divorce probably, between him and my mom, that there wasn’t a lot of contact between myself or any of the other brothers or sisters. And I think that continued. But I do know for a fact that he traveled a lot,” she said.

A search by the family for Andrews’ remains turned up empty. And Valerie said they chose to move on. She remembers her dad as “great guy” who was a husband, father and brother.

“He was definitely a military man, and cared about his family. And, you know, just loved life,” she said.

Andrews was African American and experienced the integration of the military. He served during the Korean War and received several medals. One of them stood out to OSU military history professor John Guilmartin.

“The most impressive of that whole bunch is the Combat Infantryman Badge,” said Guilmartin. “To get the Combat Infantryman Badge, or the CIB as it’s commonly called, you have to have been assigned to an infantry unit that actually saw combat.”

That was news to Andrews’ daughter. “I didn’t know the extent of actually, you know, him seeing and realizing that aspect of being in the military. It just helps me understand more and more what kind of man he was.”

Valerie will be at her dad’s military funeral in Dayton to see him receive the proper burial he never got. “That idea of closure is probably the best word I can think of. Just, OK, now we know, and we can kind of put some things to rest.”

William Huffman – War Hero, Quiet Bachelor

Another veteran whose remains went unclaimed for years was William Huffman, who served in the army during World War two. He lived in Reynoldsburg until he died in 1994.

Most of Huffman’s neighbors have since moved out of the neighborhood. But those who are left describe him as a quiet man who mostly kept to himself.

“Bill was just a very nice, very kind man. [He was] always very gentlemanly. He did love to read. He loved his dog Ginger. And he was just a really good person,” Theresa Marshall recalled.

Marshall lived behind Huffman when she was a teenager. Huffman was a confirmed bachelor who never had any children. And since his parents were dead, there was no family left to claim his remains.

“It doesn’t surprise me, but it is very sad,” she said.

Marshall knew Huffman was in the service, but she had no idea he, by all accounts, was a hero.

Huffman received a number of awards and decorations during his three years of service which lends some insight into what he did as a soldier. We listed some of the medals to military history professor John Guilmartin: American Campaign Medal, World War II Victory Medal, Bronze Star Medal and Soldiers Medal.

“Soldiers Medal?! That’s a biggy!,” exclaimed Guilmartin. “That is awarded only for saving a life at risk to your own. In theory it ranks below the Silver Star, maybe even below the Bronze Star, but, in fact, among veterans, active duty people, it’s considered almost equal to a Silver Star. That is given only for saving at life at risk to your own life.”

And Guilmartin said the Bronze Star implies Huffman faced combat. Another clue as to what Huffman may have done during his service was his treatment for Dysentery in Burma during June of 1944.

“June ’44 in Burma, we’re talking very likely serious combat…The heaviest combat was in February through late May of ’44 which is presumably when he got his Dysentery and Malaria,” he said.

With these dates, decorations and location Guilmartin concludes Huffman likely served with  Merrill’s Marauders.

Merrill’s Marauders served under General Frank Merrill. They are known for special ops which took them behind Japanese enemy lines. WOSU could not confirm whether Guilmartin’s hunch is accurate. Huffman’s military records are very limited. What he did to earn the distinguished Soldiers Medal remains a mystery.

But after all these years, Huffman finally we be given a proper military funeral.

And for Steve Ebersol, who’s with Franklin County’s American Legion and works with Ohio’s Missing In America Project, that’s a big relief and accomplishment. Ebersol said it pains him to know so many veterans’ remains are in basements of funeral homes around the country.

“I believe our veterans ought to be treated a little better than that,” he said.

Chastity Booth coordinates Ohio’s Missing In America Project. Booth learned about the program through her uncle who’s a Viet Nam vet. Booth said it’s important to be able to find the veterans families but she’s working against the clock. Funeral homes, Booth said, are not required to hold on to unclaimed remains for more than a few months.

“They are permitted to include all of these cremains in a common burial. That’s why I say this is such a time sensitive situation because there are vets that are going to common burials because we’re not able to reach them in time,” she noted.

Booth said there are more than a thousand funeral homes around Ohio with unclaimed veterans’ remains.