Bill “Santa” Jones, a member of the Oregon Veterans Motorcycle Association, joins others in prayer Thursday during the Missing in America ceremony to bury the unclaimed remains of veterans in the Eagle Point National Cemetery. - Jamie Lusch

Laid to rest

The rumble of some 200 motorcycles accompanied the remains of eight veterans across Josephine and Jackson counties Thursday on the way to their final resting place in the Eagle Point National Cemetery.

The unclaimed cremated remains, some of which had waited for decades at Hull & Hull Funeral Directors in Grants Pass, were laid to rest with full military honors as part of the Missing in America Project. The nationwide nonprofit group formed in 2007 works to locate, identify and inter the unclaimed cremated remains of veterans.

Oregon Veterans Motorcycle Association chapters from across the state, along with veterans' motorcycle groups from California and Washington, came to Southern Oregon to provide the escort.

"We are here, doing what we need to do," Fred Salanti, a burly man wearing a leather vest covered with motorcycle club patches, told the assembled crowd of proud bikers, sharply turned out military men and women, and gray-haired members of traditional veterans groups.

Salanti, a disabled Vietnam War veteran who recently moved to Redding, Calif., from Josephine County, is the executive director of the Missing in America Project. He launched the project after discovering there were countless unclaimed cremated remains, also known as cremains, of veterans in funeral homes across the nation.

"We find veterans from different wars left over a long period of time" and give them a military burial available to all who have served, he said.

Volunteers from the group contacted Hull & Hull about six months ago to sort through the records related to cremains left in safekeeping there, said Bryan Lingg, a funeral director apprentice.

The remains set to rest Thursday included two World War I veterans — Army 1st Sgt. Harry D. Fish and Army Pvt. Bruce B. King — which Hull & Hull had retained since the 1940s, he said.

"It's a blessing that they came through and matched the records," he said, noting that confirming service can be a time-consuming task.

Salanti said volunteers work with genealogy groups, the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis and even the Federal Bureau of Investigation to verify details about veterans' service.

The eight veterans found through the Missing in America Project were honored along with 15 others in a monthly ceremony that recognizes veterans interred at the national cemetery without any other local service.

Jim Roberts, a chaplain from the Department of Veterans Affairs' Southern Oregon Rehabilitation Center and Clinics in White City, noted that he has seen a sense of duty unlike any other in his Army career.

Quoting Robert E. Lee, he said, "Duty is the sublimest word in the language. You can never do more than your duty. You should never wish to do less."

He added, "These men performed their duty," as a veteran stepped up to read the list of 23 names before an Oregon Army National Guard funeral honors team gave a 21-gun salute and played taps.

Repaying such service is a duty for everyone, Salanti said.

"This project can't be accomplished without everybody," he said. "It takes all of us doing a little bit."

Reach reporter Anita Burke at 776-4485, or e-mail

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