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Nationwide effort gives homeless veterans an honorable burial

July 2, 2017 at 4:32 PM EDT
There are an estimated 39,000 homeless military veterans in the United States, according to the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. The Missing in America project works to locate, identify, and grant honorable burials to those who have died. Mitchell Riley for Arizona Public Media reports from Tucson.
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MITCHELL RILEY: On a bright Saturday morning, Organizers from the Southern Arizona Missing in America Project, along with military personnel, Veterans groups, law enforcement officers, and private citizens, gather at the Adair Funeral Home in northwest Tucson. Pima County Detective Shaun Pfund is the law enforcement liaison.

SHAUN PFUND: This is about you. The Missing in America Project was a creation of a vet who believed that no veteran should go without honorable burial…and our intent is always to locate, identify, and recover veterans.

MITCHELL RILEY: Over the past six years, 255 veterans have been laid to rest through this effort in southern Arizona. Statewide, the number is more than 430. Nationwide, more than 3,100 vets have been identified and interred with military honors.

SHAUN PFUND: It’s a very emotional thing, because I acknowledge the person who has sacrificed so much for me.

OFFICER AT PODIUM: As we ride today, please have your angels spread their wings of protection and keep us all safe.

MITCHELL RILEY: The cremated remains of these 29 homeless or impoverished veterans are driven by motorcade 25 miles to be interred at a veterans’ cemetery in Marana, Arizona.

MITCHELL RILEY: The Missing in America Project finds remains by working with mortuaries, funeral homes, Veterans groups, and state agencies. After determining the remains are of a veteran with an honorable discharge, the Project cares for them in this way.

SHAUN PFUND: I have come once again to honor and acknowledge the men and women who have honorably served our nation in a time of war and in a time of peace.

MITCHELL RILEY: Some recovered veterans served as far back as World War Two. Others as recently as Iraq and Afghanistan. Pima County covers the cost of cremations. The Adair Funeral Home donates the engraved urns.

OFFICER AT PODIUM: Luckett, James H, U.S. Army Vietnam…Carter, John R., U.S. Army, Cold War.

SHAUN PFUND: For they fell not upon the battlefields of this world but within our neighborhoods and city streets…unidentified, marginalized and forgotten, destined to fade away without a word, a tribute or recognition of their respective service to our nation … I say to everyone here within the sound of my voice and beyond, you are not forgotten.

MITCHELL RILEY: The next ceremony for the southern Arizona Missing in America Project is scheduled for October. Organizers have already confirmed the remains of 12 more veterans to be honored.

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