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Unclaimed veterans’ remains receive full military honors

May 28, 2019

CHARLESTON — No one knows a lot about Roosevelt Hatch.

He doesn’t have any family or next-of-kin, and was likely dead for about 20 years when someone bought a storage locker and found an urn with Hatch’s remains inside.

But there are a few bits of information that are known: Hatch died a decorated Vietnam War army veteran with a Purple Heart. He’s not from West Virginia; he was cremated in Dayton, Ohio.

But he was never honored.

That changed on Monday, when Hatch, Eddie Elkins and George Righter, all unclaimed veterans with no next-of-kin were honored and buried at the Donel C. Kinnard Memorial State Veterans Cemetery.

Each man received full military honors at an unclaimed veteran interment ceremony, held by the state Department of Veterans Assistance. Their urns will be placed in a columbarium next to each other.

Darrell Cunningham, cemetery director at the veterans cemetery in Dunbar, doesn’t know a lot about the men. But he’s memorized the scant facts — which branch of the military they served in, and in what wars. He knows Righter was in the Navy in the Gulf War; that Elkins died at a nursing home and was an Air Force sergeant in the Korean War.

“When they come here, they’re my guys,” he said.

It was his idea to have a unclaimed veteran interment ceremony Monday. It was also his idea to give each man’s flag to a member of the Patriot Guard, a veterans motorcycle club.

So when Ed Hicks, a Vietnam War veteran who served in the Air Force, arrived at the ceremony, he learned he’d be receiving Elkins’ flag and would be researching him. It caught him by surprise.

He wants to find out where Elkins was from, and what he did in the military.

“We don’t want any unclaimed or veterans with no family. That doesn’t work with us in the military,” he said.

Cunningham had a similar perspective: It’s important these men aren’t forgotten, even if they don’t have a family.

“I get to take care of guys that no one thought to take care of,” he said.

He’s already planning the next ceremony; the cemetery gets unclaimed bodies throughout the year.

“This is my new happy place — second-best job I’ve ever had,” he said.

The first: The Marine Corps.

Reach Kate Mishkin at kate.mishkin@wvgazette-mail.com, 304-348-4843 or follow ©katemishkin on Twitter.

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