KILLEEN, Texas — It was an odd sight; sad to those who understood it.
A small hearse was towed behind a motorcycle, with 12 marble urns visible through the glass.
They held the cremated remains of U.S. veterans that had gone unclaimed for years. Patriot Guard Riders escorted them gently to a columbarium at the Texas State Veterans Cemetery in Killeen Monday morning.
A contingent of soldiers from nearby Fort Hood stood at attention. Other veterans heard about the ceremony and came to pay respects to the 12.
They weren't unknown. But when they died, no one claimed their ashes.
These are MIAs who weren't "missing in action"; they were missing in America.
Volunteers with a group called the Missing In America Project are now scouring funeral homes to find the remains of thousands of such veterans.
"We physically go to every funeral home," said MIA chaplain Warren Wurzburger, a Navy veteran. "For us, it's finding them. And if they're veterans, we should take care of them. It's very sad to know these folks sat on a shelf."
Wurzburger said since the project launched in 2007, volunteers have found the ashes of about 2,000 veterans.
They include two brothers from Indiana whose remains had been neglected since the Civil War. They are now interred at Arlington National Cemetery.
The 12 interred in Killeen Monday were the first to be found in Texas. Wurzburger said they were from the Austin area, but had been moved to a storage facility in Missouri. They served from World War II to Vietnam. Some served during all three wars.
The remains of World War II Army Staff Sgt. John Clevlen was unclaimed for 32 years. It was 12 years for Army Corporal Donald Klein; he earned a Bronze Star during World War II combat.
Soldiers solemnly placed the urns in their enclosures and draped dog tags around the tops. Seven Green Beret combat veterans came to show their respects.
"It's so sad," said Vietnam vet Russ Allen. "Those people did duty for their country. They have to be remembered."
The effort to find veterans from Texas is just beginning.
Here is a list of those interred in Killeen on Monday:
- Capt. James Holver Hook (1903-84), U.S. Navy, 1942-46, during World War II; and U.S. Navy Reserves, 1946-64, Korea and Vietnam.
- Pfc. Donald George Danylock (1955-89), U.S. Army, 1972, Vietnam.
- Staff Sgt. John Sidney Clevlen (1922-82), U.S. Army, 1943-45, World War II.
- Pvt. Ernest Joseph Bellot (1936-2004), U.S. Army, 1961-64, Vietnam.
- Capt. David B. Douglas (1910-98), U.S. Army, 1943-46, World War II.
- James Ferguson Childress (1925-86), U.S. Navy as seaman second class, 1942-46, World War II; U.S. Army as sergeant, 1946-49; U.S. Air Force, airman first class, 1951-61, Korea.
- 1st Lt. Robert Allen Rach (1924-1996), U.S. Army, 1951-53, Korea.
- Hospital Corpsman William G. Mayes (1928-2005), U.S. Navy, 1945-49, World War II; 1949-65, Korea and Vietnam.
- Cpl. Donald W. Klein (1924-2001), U.S. Army, 1943-46, World War II. (Combat soldier. Awarded Bronze Star.)
- Technician Fifth Grade Edgar R. Potratz (1914-98), U.S. Army, 1941-45, World War II.
- Spc. Fourth Class Jerry Wiedemeier (1944-2006), U.S. Army, 1962-65, Vietnam
- Spc. Fourth Class Jeffrey Albert Huebner (1959-2003), U.S. Army, 1977-82.