More than 100 people gathered Saturday morning in Marana to honor 17 deceased U.S. military veterans whose remains were never claimed, some for decades.
Missing in America Project arranged for the burials at Arizona Veterans Memorial Cemetery as a final tribute to veterans who, while they died without being claimed by next of kin, were worthy of recognition for their service.
"Whether someone served two years and got out because of an injury, or they served 30 or 40 years and made it their whole career, they all deserve at least to be recognized for what they did," said Peter Redwine, an MIAP supporter.
The ceremony began with honor details folding U.S. flags in perfect unison. As pairs of servicemen and women marched up to a table holding the boxes of cremated remains, the rhythmic tapping of their boots on the concrete was the only sound.
The crowd raised their arms in salute as each box was carried away for placement in a vault. A lone bugle blared.
"It's just such a moving experience and such an honor to be a part of this," said Mary Cartter, an MIAP member. "Every chance I get, I come to one of these. I love the dedication. I think it renews our pride in America. These guys in the MIAP, they search the world to find these soldiers. Thank God for them."
MIAP states their mission as:
The purpose of the MIA Project is to locate, identify and inter the unclaimed cremated remains of American veterans through the joint efforts of private, state and federal organizations. To provide honor and respect to those who have served this country by securing a final resting place for these forgotten heroes.
Elizabeth Bartel, the MIAP National Chaplain for the Western Region, said that MIAP works because of loyal people like Cartter.
"People faithfully come out every time we call for it, so you can tell it's near and dear to our hearts and just the community in general," Bartel said.
Bartel said she was proud to work for an organization like MIAP's because "it gives honor to these people that served our country and died a lonely death."
Redwine said he thought it was "fantastic that we have an organization that renders the honors to the men and women that they deserve."
He noted that this was the smallest mission he'd been on, with the largest in Cave Creek that laid 42 veterans to rest.
"I think it's a critical thing for our veterans to know they're not forgotten. Think about how many veterans who live alone or are homeless, who hear about MIAP and don't have to worry as much about what's going to happen when they're gone," Redwine said.
Cartter agreed, saying, "I just hope these poor soldiers are looking down.They signed a blank check and gave their all."
The next event is sometime in October, Bartel said.
For more information, visit https://www.miap.us/.