Unclaimed Bucks County veterans get their final resting place
The Bucks County Coroner’s Office held a burial ceremony for four unclaimed Bucks County veterans who died in 2016 and 2017.
Nur B. Adam and Jo Ciavaglia, Bucks County Courier Times
Editor’s note: This news agency tells the stories of unclaimed deaths and their impact on the community since 2019. At the time of this publication, 73 cremated remains have found final resting places. But hundreds more remain unclaimed in Bucks and Montgomery counties. Our original “unclaimed” stories can be viewed on our website and include names, stories and updated statuses of unclaimed dead cases.
Ginny Hewes remembers that growing up, her big brother Albert Reamy used to walk around in the woods around their house and bring home spiders. He kept them in jars.
“They were his pets,” she said.
One day, however, Albert brought home a new friend. It was a centipede. He put it in the same jar as his favorite spider. He soon learned that the two insects did not get along, unfortunately for his beloved eight-legged pet.
“He cried,” Ginny said.
The 81-year-old Croydon resident has many memories of the brother who was 12 when she was born. Ginny was 5 years old when Albert joined the US Navy and left home to fight in World War II.
She also remembers the last time she saw him. He was in the hospital. It was about a month before he died at age 88. He didn’t want to talk to her, Ginny said.
Five years after his death in 2017, Hewes has a new memory of his brother as an honored American hero.
Reamy was the oldest of four men whose ashes were interred years after they died Thursday at Washington Crossing Veterans’ Cemetery. Hewes received the American flag, a symbol of appreciation for his brother’s military service.
Each month Upper Makefield Cemetery remembers military veterans who have died without an official memorial service. On Thursday, we remembered these men:
- Lee Schantz was 54 when he died in June 2016. The Springfield Township resident was a Private First Class in the United States Army during the Persian Gulf War.
- Steven Williams was 61 when he died in August 2017. The Bristol Township resident served as an airman in the US Air Force during the Vietnam War.
- Richard Wilburn was 76 when he died in January 2017. The Quakertown resident was a soldier in the US Marine Corp.
“We veterans still have a mission. Your work is not done,” retired US Navy Commander Peter Gregory told those gathered. “Your job as veterans is to remind a very polarized nation, a very fractured country, that we are still one people. One nation. Under God.”
Dozens of veterans and cemetery volunteers attended the brief ceremony, as did Bucks County Coroner Meredith Buck. She becomes a regular at the monthly memorial service.
“It is good that veterans who have served our country are getting the proper resting place and proper burial and recognition for their duty and service,” Buck said.
Recognizing the forgotten dead is a priority for the coroner.
This year alone, his office has identified and made final arrangements for 12 unclaimed veterans. They’re not the only ones either.
Since returning to work in 2020, Buck has done more to find new homes for unclaimed cremated remains dating back to 1999 than any of his predecessors.
In just over two years, she moved 33 people who had otherwise been forgotten in death out of the county morgue. More than half were veterans or spouses eligible for free burial at a veterans cemetery with full military honors upon their death.
But before Buck, the coroner’s office did not routinely check the eligibility of unclaimed dead in its custody.
“I cannot explain why this was not done before my administration,” she added.
Some unclaimed dead had no known next of kin or final arrangements. Others had family but were unable or unwilling to make final arrangements.
Honorably discharged veterans and their spouses are entitled to free burials. Military service must be confirmed by a document known as DD214, given to veterans upon discharge; copies are held at the Missouri National Archives.
But a request must be made for these documents. In Pennsylvania, neither funeral homes nor county coroners are required to check with veteran authorities. This is where Buck and his office come in.
They died years ago, now they can rest‘Once a veteran. Still a veteran. Eight unclaimed dead interred in Bucks County Cemetery
The coroner wants to leave no one unclaimedBucks County Coroner’s Office working to reunite unclaimed dead with family
The office has been working backwards from 2020, reopening old cases and attempting to seek families or other final arrangements for the remains of more than 200 unclaimed dead it inherited.
Recently, they started looking at cases from 2015. There were 19 unclaimed people that year, records show.
Deputy Coroner Kristina Johnson is tasked with reviewing the records, which she does among her other duties, including identifying newly deceased persons and tracing next of kin.
“We go to great lengths and look at cases that haven’t been looked at in depth before,” Buck said. “It’s not an easy task and she’s very persistent in following things through.”
The Bucks County morgue averages about four people a month who initially show up as unclaimed. As of September, the county had 14 unclaimed this year.
Johnson regularly sends registration requests to the Veterans Administration when she identifies a potential military veteran. The administration determines if the person is eligible for free military funeral services.
Two of the men buried Thursday died in nursing homes and the other two in hospitals, Buck said. No next of kin contact information was found.
The number of veterans his office found among the unclaimed dead comes as no surprise to Buck. It makes her sad.
“Veterans are very humble people and don’t advertise it,” she added.
Many nursing homes, often the last address of unclaimed dead, do not regularly update records listing next of kin, emergency contacts or final arrangements after a person is admitted, Buck said. . They also cannot ask about military service.
For Buck and his staff, reuniting as many people as possible with unclaimed loved ones and providing a sense of closure is an important part of the job.
“Everyone deserves a dignified resting place with dignity,” she said.
Unclaimed: The Susan Triano StoryHer unclaimed remains had been in the Montco coroner’s office since 2013. Now she will receive a final resting place
The story of Michel Cappetta Separated as children, the siblings reunite at their brother’s funeral thanks to the efforts of MontCo’s coroner