If you’ve been reading the newspaper recently, you’ve read about the heartbreaking story of 28 veterans whose remains sat forgotten for as many as 44 years.
Those remains — some from men who served in World War I — waited unclaimed at Wilson’s Chapel of the Roses for decades until a small group of volunteers heard about veterans’ cremated remains that had been found at the Oregon State Hospital in Salem.
Curious, the volunteers began asking around, wondering if local funeral homes had any information about forgotten soldiers.
What they found was one of the largest group of unclaimed veterans remains ever to have been recovered in this state.
Even as a mere number, the figure is staggering — especially knowing that it occurred in our county — but the pain cast over the face of Nancy Gile, whose father, Navy veteran Robert Young, was among the collection of lost cremains, is gut-wrenching and beyond comprehension.
Young died in 1982, and until April 20, the veteran’s family believed his ashes had been scattered at Lemolo Lake. But while Gile was scanning the list of names, which published in The News-Review, her heart sank.
“We would never have forgotten our dad,” she said. “We would never have never left him there. We wouldn’t have. Our family is too important to us.”
But it needs to go farther than that — we can’t forget.
We honor our veterans every November and remember them every May. In between, we salute them at football games, cover their tab at the local coffee shop, and thank them for their service in the grocery store. Which isn’t nearly enough, but it’s part of the promise we make to the servicemembers who put their lives on the line for our freedom — to care for them when they come home and to remember their sacrifice if they don’t.
Unfortunately, there is nothing we can do to change the past. A ceremony held in downtown Roseburg was a beautiful gesture — and a deserved one — but this type of tragedy simply cannot happen again.
Douglas County Veterans Forum President Larry Hill said he plans to lobby for new laws that would mandate the remains of veterans never be forgotten, unclaimed, or as he put it, being held prisoner.
We vehemently support such legislation because the alternative isn’t good enough.
Gile, with tears rolling down her face, said it best: “I just hope this doesn’t happen to other people.”