When Staff Sgt. John Sidney Clevlen died in 1982, funeral home workers were unable to locate his family. More than 30 years later, the World War II veteran was finally laid to rest Monday at the Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery in Killeen.
Although no blood relatives attended the ceremony, Clevlen’s Army family honored him as his ashes — along with the ashes of 11 other veterans — were placed in a columbarium at the cemetery.
“That’s a shame that nobody came forward to claim the bodies,” said former Staff Sgt. Barry Dahlquist, a member of the Central Texas Patriot Guard. “I want to be here to honor them and their service and what they did for this country.”
The burial was sponsored by the Missing in America Project, which has laid to rest the unclaimed remains of more than 1,800 veterans.
Monday’s ceremony for World War II, Korea and Vietnam veterans was the first burial in Texas.
Chaplain Warren Wurzburger, with the Missing in Action Project, said the bodies of about 200,000 people, including some veterans, are waiting to be claimed by family members at funeral homes nationwide.
“I’m absolutely astounded. I was unaware that there were that many unclaimed bodies,” said retired Command Sgt. Maj. Don Fender. “I don’t know why they waited so long to get around to this. This should have been done.”
Although Fender didn’t know any of the 12 veterans whose cremated remains were brought to the cemetery, he still wanted to show respect to his fallen comrades.
“We’re here because there’s no one else here to represent them,” said Fender, president of Chapter 77 of the Special Forces Association. “Whenever you’re in the military, especially those who served in combat, it’s a unique fraternity and we couldn’t imagine being anywhere else. ... This is where we’re supposed to be.”