The Missing in America Project will begin in Ormond Beach.
A committee of four men under the Vietnam Veterans of America Daytona Beach Chapter 1048 are taking the initiative in making sure no veteran in Volusia County is forgotten — even those who have long since died without the proper recognition.
The committee, made up of Chairman Bob Adkins, Co-Chair and VVA 1048 President Rod Phillips, Gabe Sanchez and Jim Drake, will be participating in the national Missing in America Project, which aims to locate, identify and inter the unclaimed cremated remains of U.S. veterans, and their immediate loved ones, in national cemeteries across the country. The committee will begin this effort in Volusia County here in Ormond Beach at the Volusia Memorial Park and Funeral Home.
“We have a slogan amongst us that says we will never leave a veteran behind, and this falls under that slogan,” Adkins said.
Volusia Memorial Park currently has about 200 unclaimed cremated remains stored safely in crypts, said Bob Clark, the director of family services at Volusia Memorial. Dignity Memorial, the company that runs the funeral home, has worked with MIAP in
Jacksonville for almost three years. When the VVA 1048 committee approached him for MIAP, Clark said they offered up their location and files so that the committee can learn how to find these unclaimed veterans and be able to do it at other funeral homes.
“If we can identify a veteran that’s in this status and give them a proper burial, then we’ve accomplished something," Clark said.
MIAP Florida State Coordinator Kathy Church said there are several factors as to why some veterans' remains are unclaimed, including homelessness at the time of death and past errors by funeral homes.
In order to remedy the situation, MIAP has gone through, and will continue to go through, several hurdles. In Florida, House Bill 171 has allowed MIAP to proceed without liability threats to the program and participating funeral homes, though they still have to complete necessary steps like contacting next of kin and making legal announcements in newspapers.
The ultimate goal is also to reunite the remains of these veterans with their families and allow them to make a decision on their final resting places.
“This is a very important project," Church said.
To gather information, the committee will be looking up death certificates of the unclaimed remains. Donations raised for this effort in Volusia County will remain local to pay for the administrative and legal costs of MIAP.
For the committee, the decision was a no-brainer as soon as they heard of the program in June. They knew they had to get involved.
“We have the ambition, the drive, the motivation to fulfill the task and responsibilities of this important mission that we are embarking on," Phillips said.