"A hard stretch of road is always made easier when traveling with brotherhood," a Marine Corps saying goes.
The unclaimed remains of twenty veterans were buried Saturday at Calveton NationalCemetery on Long Island in a show of pomp and respect they might not have seen in life.
The veterans, some who died as long ago as 2006, served in various branches of the military, and their service spanned decades and wars. The majority of the veterans were from the New York area, one source said.
Their burial is the first in a large-scale program by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs to give the remains of unclaimed veterans a proper military burial.
Portions of the Long Island Expressway were closed to the cavalcade, which began in Queens. The twenty hearses were followed by a long stretch of cars and flanked by military personnel. Along the route, fire departments from Queens, Nassau, and Suffolk Counties drove trucks to the overpasses, where they displayed flags and saluted the convoy.
"They were buried with dignity," said Paul Schottenhamel, who has been involved with the burying of indigent veterans with the Queens County American Legion and the Vietnam Veterans of America for years. This mass burial was sponsored, planned, and paid for by Dignity Memorial, a national funeral service. Casket companies donated the caskets and each veteran was saluted by an official military honor guard.
Members of veterans organizations from throughout the area were represented, including the American Legion, Catholic War Veterans, and Jewish War Veterans.
The burial was the largest mass burial of veterans since World War Two, a person involved said.
A folded flag for each man was presented to members of Gold Star Mothers, a group of parents who lost their children in the military, as well as local politicians including County Executive Steve Levy, and Congressman Tim Bishop and Steve Israel.
"They did a fantastic job," Schottenhamel said of the service, noting that close to 400 people attended the event, filling a large tent at the cemetery.