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Steven Palmer Bio

Steven Palmer's blog

Never To Be Forgotten

Posted by Steven Palmer on June 1, 2015

“The nation which forgets its defenders will be itself forgotten.”  –Calvin Coolidge


  Marvin Stutesman, a pharmacist, owned several drug stores in the area and was a respected member of the community. He was also a veteran. He served in the Navy in Korea.

  When Marvin died, his wife, Dorothy, made his arrangements faithfully and sincerely. A memorial service was held in the funeral home chapel. She was alone and was undecided as to his final disposition after cremation. She would “get back to me with a decision.” That was 2002. Attempts to reach Mrs. Stutesman resulted in phone numbers being disconnected and mail being returned. I still have no idea as to her location or mortality.

  Mr. Stutesman was not the only unintended inhabitant of our secure storage area of the forgotten. As with any funeral home of any tenure, we all have residents that we never expected. They should not be in our care. They need to be in permanent, appropriate placement; yet they reside with us awaiting family claimants or long term storage to be passed off to successive owners.

  Some funeral home owners have used their state laws to scatter or otherwise dispose of these seemingly permanent boarders. One corporately purchased funeral home scattered them and ended up on the evening news. Legally they were clear, but the civil suits began.

  As we have investigated this dilemma over the years, one organization gave us a satisfying solution to our predicament.

  The Missing in America Project, since January 2007, has aspired to “locate, identify and inter the unclaimed cremated remains of American veterans through the joint efforts of private, state and federal organizations.”

  I was aware of MIAP through my memberships with Arizona Funeral, Cemetery and Crematory Association and the National Funeral Directors Association. One of my staff members, Sam DiGiovianni, an Army veteran who served in Afghanistan and was wounded twice as vehicles he was riding in came in contact with Improvised Explosive devices (IEDs), encouraged me to work with MIAP.

  Sam obtained information from our files and turned them over to MIAP, who verified their veteran’s status that made them eligible for inurnment at the National Memorial Cemetery of Arizona.

  Four other forgotten veterans were also able to have final placement in the National Cemetery.

  MIAP officers Clyde “Tex” Taylor and Steve Leon presented us with four matching ceramic urns donated to the project. Each one had a red, white and blue lanyard with two small American flags and a recreated “dog tag” for each veteran. These were made by volunteers of the organization.

  A procession would begin at our funeral home with the Patriot Guard providing escort to the scheduled inurnments.

  As the day approached, we were contacted by news organizations who had read this news online. A major Phoenix station asked to be part of the ceremony.

  The local VFW post, who provides our military honors, asked to be part of the ceremony with a flag salute. Their presence was welcomed and encouraged.

  On the day of the service, each urn and flag had its own attendant and was brought to the transport vehicle with the dignity and honor befitting the sacrifice they were commissioned for.

  The procession began to Phoenix, Patriot Guards leading, transport vehicle following.

  There were five other forgotten veterans at the Hansen Funeral Home of Phoenix. Brad Hansen has always been a leading advocate of MIAP. Their five forgotten veterans would be present at the ceremony. Of the nine, four were World War I, two were World War II, one was Korea and two were Vietnam veterans.

  All nine of the forgotten veterans were transported to the stage of the National Memorial Cemetery of Arizona. An appropriate memorial service with full honors was held. Several hundred veterans and other caring people attended the service, but no family members were present.  

  There was one flag folded and presented to represent all nine veterans at the service. I did not know that I would receive that flag, but it was with great honor, a lump in my throat, a tear in my eye, that I represented nine families that could not, or would not, be there for their veterans.

  I put the flag in a case with the nine veteran’s names and the three rounds (actually used at the ceremony) on my wall.

  The overwhelming feeling of responsibility will be with me forever.

  Every person deserves a dignified final placement. MIAP assures that veterans will.


“The veterans of our military services have put their lives on the line to protect the freedoms that we enjoy. They have dedicated their lives to their country and deserve to be recognized for their commitment.”           –Judd Gregg


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