Ensuring A Veteran's Service Stands Test of Time

Arthur A. Moorehand, 80, is buried at Arlington National Cemetery. A veterans group helped claim his body and arrange for the burial.
Arthur A. Moorehand, 80, is buried at Arlington National Cemetery. A veterans group helped claim his body and arrange for the burial. (By Courtland Milloy -- The Washington Post)
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By Courtland Milloy
Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The remains of an 80-year-old District resident were interred at Arlington National Cemetery yesterday after lying unclaimed in the D.C. morgue since April last year. There was no family on hand to grieve, no next of kin to receive the flag that draped his coffin; just a few concerned veterans, a chaplain's prayer and a seven-gun salute.

And so it was that Arthur A. Moorehand, an unknown soldier in his own home town, was laid to rest with as much dignity and respect as a group of caring strangers could muster.

"We have very little information about him, but we did find out from the VA that he was a sergeant in the U.S. Army, that he served in the military during World War II and that he received an honorable discharge in 1977," said Cecil Byrd, executive director of the National Association of Concerned Veterans, who had helped claim the body and arrange for the military burial.

Thank goodness. Otherwise, Moorehand's remains might have ended up being unceremoniously dumped in some potter's field. And that's no way to treat a veteran.

"Sgt. Moorehand apparently outlived his closest relatives, and there was no one to claim him," Regina Powell, a member of the advocacy group Veterans Helping Veterans, told me. "He has a great-niece living in New York, but she couldn't come down to identify the body because she'd never seen him."

Standing at a chilly grave site in Arlington National Cemetery, staring at a casket bearing the remains of an all but anonymous man, you could easily imagine how such a fate might await any of us.

"Sadly, people get old, become isolated and end up dying alone," Powell said.

As a chilled wind swept the cemetery, a lone bugler achingly drove the point home with taps.

What kept Moorehand from remaining a virtual John Doe was a telephone call that the D.C. morgue received from a veterans group in New York several weeks ago. Apparently, according to Byrd, an old veteran friend of Moorehand's had been trying to get in touch with him and had found about the death through a D.C. social worker. When the morgue learned that Moorehand was a veteran, the D.C. Office of Veterans Affairs was notified.

Then the W.H. Bacon Funeral Home in Northwest was contracted to prepare the body for burial. Veterans and their families should know that the U.S. Veterans Affairs Department provides burial assistance. Considering that about 10 million veterans are 65 and older, this kind of help might be needed sooner rather than later.

VA records showed that Moorehand's wife, Elizabeth Pearl, had been buried at Arlington in 1982 in a grave site set aside for the two of them. They would finally be reunited.

At the funeral, six military honor guards carried his coffin to the grave site. They were characteristically reverent and precise. But there was something missing. Surely, there was someone in this world who cared about Moorehand as much as his fellow veterans did. Unfortunately, none could be found, not even the veteran from New York whose call had set in motion the dignified burial.

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