The ashes of four unclaimed World War II veterans were laid to rest April 25, after years of sitting on a shelf in the Godfrey Funeral Home in Ocean City.
Ocean City's American Legion Post 524 Commander Robert Marzulli organized the forgotten heroes remembrance ceremony at Veterans Memorial Park in Ocean City, followed by the burial ceremony at Cape May County Veterans Cemetery in the Swainton section of Middle Township.
This was the second forgotten heroes burial for Cape May County. The first was last June, laying to rest the unclaimed cremated remains of eight Atlantic and Cape May County veterans whose ashes had been left in the possession of a Cape May Court House funeral home.
Cape May County Freeholder and Director of Veterans Affairs Gerald Thornton made a vow to correct this wrong in Cape May County.
"I said this before and I'll say it again. In the County of Cape May, no veteran remains are going to sit on a shelf," Thornton said.
Marzulli attended the June event, which inspired him to later contact his local funeral home, Godfrey Funeral Home, to inquire if it had unclaimed veterans' ashes.
The answer he received was yes. The Ocean City funeral home had the ashes of four veterans: Pfc. Edward F. Bart, Pfc. Albert A. Colavito, Pvt. James B. Davis and Cpl. Alto DuBose.
Under the leadership of American Legion Morvay-Miley Post 524, the four were honorably laid to rest before a crowd of state, county and Ocean City government officials, local veterans organizations and community members.
State Sen. Jeff Van Drew, D-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic, who is a primary sponsor of the legislation passed Feb. 4, 2009, that made such a burial legal, spoke at the ceremony. Van Drew said that unknown to many, the ashes of countless veterans from the state - and the country - have never been claimed.
"They have no family member, no friends, no one at all," Van Drew said. "When that happened, their remains end up on the shelves in the back of nursing homes, crematories and funeral parlors."
Van Drew said he was made aware of this situation just a few years ago.
"It was incredulous to me," he said. "I didn't know about it, and I think there were many others who dint know about it, and the more we looked into it, the more we understood it. We knew it was absolutely necessary that we had to correct this wrong."
As the law states, when a veterans' organization comes forward asking to bury an unclaimed veteran or veteran's remains, it must wait a grace period of a year to ensure no immediate relative comes forth. After that, the group could hold a proper military burial.
American Legion Post 524 did just that.
"It's been a long road. It's taken a year to get to this point, but it's been all worth it," Marzulli said.
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