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Queens Chapter 32:
Burying Veterans with Dignity and Honor

By Michael Keating

“In New York, there’s an overabundance of veterans held at the Medical Examiner’s Office,” Queens Chapter 32 President Pat Toro said. These aren’t cremains; they’re bodies. In fact, refrigerated unclaimed bodies of some veterans have been held as long as four years.

When the chapter realized what was going on, it committed to changing the situation. A meeting was held with other veterans’ organizations at the request of the Mayor’s Office and Chapter 32. No other VSO was willing to take on the problem. No other VSO would touch it because they feared the liability and didn’t want to incur the debt. “I just said ‘We will do it’ and walked out of the meeting,” Toro said.

What made the situation in New York City especially distressing were several well-intentioned but contradictory city laws that locked the city administration into inaction.

• In the city of New York, no veteran will suffer the indignity of being buried at Potter’s Field.
• All indigent veterans will be buried in national cemeteries.
• The Medical Examiner cannot transport any bodies outside the city limits.
• There is no national cemetery in the five boroughs of New York.

Chapter 32 jumped enthusiastically into the breach, Toro being joined by chapter members Paul Narson, Tom Corbin, and Paul Feddern, with the solid support of the entire chapter.

Working closely with the Mayor’s Office of Veterans Affairs, Human Resources, and the Medical Examiner’s Office, they devised a way of respectfully working around the regulations. They met repeatedly with city officials, filed lots of paperwork, and finally had the chapter declared an “Organizational Friend.”


As an Organizational Friend, Chapter 32 could take possession of the unclaimed bodies of veterans. These included the homeless, the indigent, and those who simply died without family.

The chapter reached out to local funeral homes. The Hess-Miller Funeral Home and the Simonson Funeral Home, both in Queens, have repeatedly answered the chapter’s call, even though they are reimbursed only a modest $900.

When the city is ready to turn over a body to VVA Chapter 32, the Mayor’s Office contacts the chapter and the chapter contacts the funeral home. While the undertaker does his work, Paul Narson sends an email to all chapter members. Those who respond to the call meet at the funeral home and then escort the hearse to the cemetery to make sure the veteran is given full honors.

“Our guys want to do it,” Narson said. “We don’t always have a ton of guys, but they want to be part of it.”


After the military completes the flag ceremony, the American flag that draped the casket is presented to a chapter member. Chapter 32 members render the hand salute, then place their hands on the casket just before it is lowered into the ground. The flag later is placed in a case and mounted on a wall in the chapter hall. Since October, eigh-teen flag cases have been mounted on the wall; each flag had draped the casket of a forgotten veteran the chapter helped put to rest.

“The whole point,” Toro said, “is to bury veterans with dignity and honor.”Ω

For additional information on Chapter 32’s Organizational Friend program, contact Pat Toro at 718-830-0037 or VN6970@aol.com or contact Paul Narson at 17-912-7277 or eravet24@aol.com.

 

 

 

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