MANALAPAN, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — Veterans and law enforcement agencies came together in Monmouth and Ocean counties on Wednesday for a salute to arms for unclaimed veterans, those who have passed away and have no family.
The cremated ashes of 23 forgotten veterans and two veteran spouses from World War I, World War II, Korea and Vietnam eras were named and carried, along with a folded American flag, from the Manalapan Police Department into an ambulance and escorted to their final resting place — Brig. Gen. William C. Doyal Memorial Cemetery in Wrightstown.
“Whether on the battlefield of America’s armed conflicts or on the shelves of a local funeral home, we will never leave a fallen comrade behind,” Manalapan Mayor Jack McNaboe said.
The ceremony was part of the Cremains Project, which is designed bring unclaimed ashes of veterans to rest.
“We just want to show people what is happening, that these veterans are left on shelves. A lot of people, when they hear this they say no way in the world they leave veterans on shelves. But they do,” said Ernie DiOrio of Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 12.
As Monmouth County Sheriff Shaun Golden explained, “No family members attached to them. That’s why they are unclaimed. So this is their family here, escorting them to their burial place.”
Hundreds of law enforcement, veterans groups and motorcycle clubs gathered for the ride.
“This is a very, very earnest and heartfelt way of putting people where they belong at the end of their time,” said Manalapan veteran and Justice Highway Motorcycle Club member Anthony Fleres.
“When you look around to see the camaraderie of those riding together, both men and women of all ages, to support this cause, it says a lot about the veteran community,” said Francisco Cortes, president of the New Jersey State Veteran Chamber of Commerce.
“They stood and protected the freedoms that we enjoy today. So we are here to stand in line for them and give them honors they deserve,” added Williams Byrne of Rolling Thunder Long Island.
Organizers said the public can never repay the veterans for their sacrifices, but what it can do is never forget.
The Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 12 works with funeral parlors to go through unclaimed remains and find those that are veterans and then honor them.
CBS2’s Meg Baker contributed to this report