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Unaccompanied veterans given proper burial at Yellowstone National Cemetery in Laurel

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Posted at 8:40 AM, Feb 03, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-03 10:40:51-05

Veterans and Friends of the Yellowstone National Cemetery honor veterans who have died with no known family members- known as unaccompanied veterans- four times a year.

Five veterans received the honors at the Yellowstone National Cemetery in Laurel on Wednesday.

The American Legion serves as the color guard and, along with the Marine Corps League, honored the five veterans.

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"These guys are so special because they don't have families," said Ray Southworth, American Legion Post 123 commander. "They're homeless. They're destitute. And nobody really cares about them, but we do. And it's an honor, total honor for us to do these guys. So it's really special to us."

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"We're honoring veterans who did not have families here to honor them or put them to rest," said Mike Tolstedt of the Marine Corps Eugene Sara detachment. "And they're every bit as important as any other veteran."

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"Thank you for joining us as we welcome these veterans into our care and keep a promise that they will never be buried alone," Stephen McCollum, Yellowstone National Cemetery manager, said during the ceremony.

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McCollum said the V.A.'s National Cemetery Administration requires a memorial service for veterans whose next of kin is unknown. Some bigger cemeteries around the country may have a ceremony every day. In Laurel, it's quarterly and may include up to 40 a year. The unattended or unaccompanied veterans honored on this day include Samuel B. Shoop, Robert L. Hartman, Larry G, Heitzman, Ivan G. Murdock, and Delvin D Stapp.

"I just know their names and if they were in the Army, Air Force, Marines," said Southworth.

He also said he does not have any information on the veterans.

And even with temperatures around zero and a 20 degree windchill, veterans make the effort to hold these ceremonies.

"Doesn't matter what the weather is," Tolstedt said. "We'll be here for them."

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"And until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of his hand, amen," Yellowstone County Commissioner Denis Pitman said during a prayer at the podium.

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The remains of the five veterans will rest either buried or in the columbarium.