TRIANGLE, Va. — No one who attended Wednesday’s funeral service at Quantico National Cemetery had ever met the two World War II-era veterans who were being laid to rest.
Their names, their ranks and their decorations had only recently been learned. No one could even say where the men were from.
What the attendees did know was that the men’s ashes had been found, unclaimed for more than 25 years, in a funeral home in Norfolk.
The Missing in America Project, which has buried the remains of more than 2,000 previously lost veterans, identified the two cremains as belonging to U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Harry V. Tucker and U.S. Army Air Forces Staff Sgt. William E. Glover.
The organization had reached out to the last known next of kin for both men but never got a response. That’s not uncommon, MIAP Virginia State Coordinator Brigitte Corbin said. Veterans become estranged from their families or no longer have a family. They’re left in funeral homes and pauper graves across the United States.
MIAP finds the cremains by reaching out to the funeral homes. Sometimes the homes reach out to the volunteer organization. MIAP staffers then confirm the military service of the men and women with the U.S. government and set to work to bring them to a national cemetery.
“We are the family,” said Corbin, who has also overseen burials at Arlington National Cemetery.
Tucker’s and Glover’s service was well-attended, even if no known family members were there. Corbin said members of American Legion Riders, Rolling Thunder, Veterans of Foreign Wars and staff members of Quantico National Cemetery were present to pay their respects.
A caravan of cars and motorcycles glided through the hills of southern Prince William County between rows of headstones. Servicemen from the Navy and the Air Force solemnly carried the cremains and flags past seven Patriot Guard Riders, who hoisted their own flags under a cloudless blue sky. Silence enveloped the somber proceedings, save some footfalls, sounds of camera shutters and an occasional sniffle.
Navy sailors unfolded and folded Tucker’s flag and presented it to Quantico National Cemetery and Culpeper Complex Director Steven Fezler. Air Force airmen folded and presented Glover’s flag to another member of the staff. Corbin arranged for them to receive the flags in thanks for helping MIAP.
Veterans with an American Legion post in Pennsylvania fired off a salute, bullet casings glistening in the April sun as they fell. An airman played taps. The Rev. Billy Shepard presided, saying: “This body we commit to the ground, earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”
Then there was a murmured and communal “amen.”
Corbin ended the service with an announcement that Daniel Purvis, a Quantico cemetery caretaker who served two tours during the Vietnam War, had discovered he had unknowingly helped bury his great-uncle, U.S. Army Cpl. Raymond C. Purvis, on the same plot of land where Tucker and Glover now lie. Purvis cried as he was presented with the World War I veteran’s flag and letter of eligibility.
Purvis never knew his grandfather’s brother, “but it doesn’t really matter because he’s here now.”
“This is the last job I’ll ever have,” Purvis added. “I will be buried here.”
The caravan continued on Thomas Jefferson Road to Section 22, where Fezler and Quantico National Cemetery Management and Program Analyst Linda Flook-Birnbaum each placed one box of cremains in its final resting place.
“When you hear taps being played 800 times a year for the veterans, or you hear a volley of a three-gun salute, or you hear echo taps, you get a chill on your back and you get a tear in your eye,” Fezler said. “Even for me, almost nearly 30 years later. I can’t really tell you where that comes from other than this is a compassion to support those who have borne the battle.”