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Flag bearers stand at attention during the Missing in America Project’s memorial service for unclaimed remains Thursday at the Eagle Point National Cemetery.

Finally at rest: Vets buried

EAGLE POINT — Just moments before the 98 rumbling motorcycles with American flags in tow ascended onto the Eagle Point National Cemetery Thursday afternoon, the hallowed burial ground was utterly silent, awash in bright sunlight under blue skies and towering trees.

The noisy procession was a special tribute to 29 veterans and four spouses whose remains were unclaimed until earlier this year, when coordinators of the Missing in America Project identified them and applied for proper military burial.

Founded by Grants Pass disabled Vietnam War veteran Fred Salanti more than three years ago, Missing in America coordinates with funeral homes and military personnel to verify military service for members of the armed forces whose remains were never claimed by next of kin, said Grants Pass spokesman Bud Thieme.

The dozen-plus motorcycle groups, who coordinated Thursday's memorial, assembled at the Medford Armory and drove across the valley single-file to the national cemetery. Decked out in flags and insignia from their own military service and from their lives as civilians and as bikers, the more than 100 riders sat on grassy lawns and a rock ledge and stood beneath trees for the service, some dabbing away tears and others holding hats or hands over their hearts.

Nearly two dozen held large American flags, flapping in a slow breeze, providing the only sound before a bugler played taps.

Afterward, ceremony coordinators played Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the USA" as several in attendance wiped tears from their eyes and a Marine Corps honor guard fired three shots.

Volunteer bagpipe player Roland Kari, a member of the Star Touring and Riding Association, played "Amazing Grace."

Though no family members of those remembered were present Thursday, Kari said he and the other participants were "family enough."

"This is important to me because I'm a vet and so is my wife," Kari said. "Being a vet ... it's like being in a fraternity. When you have a fallen brother, you gotta take care of them."

Gary Whisenant, president of Old Guard Riders, said the final tribute was "the least we can do." The veterans group provides funeral escorts and helps pay respects to veterans laid to rest each month at the cemetery.

As for the unclaimed remains, Whisenant said, "It's just a shame we have to leave them on shelves all these years. We care about our vets so we make sure they get their honors."

Thieme said those recognized Thursday were every bit due a military burial as the other 14,000-plus interred at the 43-acre cemetery.

A Vietnam veteran who served in the Air Force, Thieme said, "I have friends that went over and didn't come back. A lot of us do. I do this because I don't want these veterans or their spouses just sitting on the shelf unclaimed. When they signed up to serve, they said, 'My life is yours.' So from that day until the day they go into the ground, the government takes care of them. And it's our privilege to be part of it."

For more information on the group, contact Thieme at 479-1589 or visit www.miap.us.

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at buffypollock@juno.com.

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