By Justin Franz, 7-15-12
||Caption: Patriot Guard Riders John Burgess, left, and Patrick Mateas, center, carry an American flag along with the cremains of a military veteran to a table to be transferred into the care of Montana State Champlain Rikki Perkins, right. - Lido Vizzutti/Flathead Beacon
For nearly 24 years, the remains of Charles J. Shelton sat on a shelf in Kalispell. The U.S. Navy veteran of World War II was a forgotten soldier, lost in the country he served.
Rikki Perkins didn't think that was right.
Perkins lives in Columbia Falls and is the Montana state chaplain for the Missing in America Project, a national group that tracks down the remains of forgotten veterans to give them a proper burial. Last week, the remains of eight Montana veterans – six from the Flathead and two from Billings – were buried, with full honors, at Fort Harrison near Helena. On Thursday, the remains from the Flathead were honored during a transfer ceremony at the Buffalo Hill Funeral Home and Crematory in Kalispell.
“My heart said that I had to give these guys the respect and honor they deserved,” said Perkins, who comes from a military family. “Because if they hadn't put it all on the line, we couldn't enjoy our freedom.”
Since 2006, the nonprofit organization has tracked down the remains of forgotten veterans at funeral homes across the country. According to Montana state coordinator Marty Malone of Billings, there are possibly thousands of remains unaccounted for across the country for a variety of reasons. In the last six years, the Missing in America Project has found and buried more than 1,000 remains, including two from Ronan in 2009.
Malone, a veteran himself, said he couldn't sleep at night knowing there were forgotten service members out there.
The veterans buried last weekend included James J. Brodniel, Jon W. Ball, Michael L. Shannon, Orville C. Hatch, Anthony Mills, Gregory Martin and Shelton.
Stephen Douglas, a member of the Christian Motorcyclists Association, led the Flathead veterans on an escort out of Kalispell. As a Vietnam-era veteran himself, Douglas said it was his duty to lead his fallen brothers out of town.
“I was dumbfounded that remains where sitting there in limbo,” Douglas said. “They just got left on a shelf for decades and that's not right.”
In front of the Buffalo Hill Funeral Home, members of the Patriot Guard Riders and other veterans formed two rows as the remains were brought out, one at a time. Each time a pair of Patriot Guard members walked into the sun, a flag or an urn in hand, a veteran yelled out “stand at!” After a few feet they placed the remains on a small table in front of Perkins, who in turn would take the urn and place it in the back seat of a truck.
Each time the name of the veteran, their branch of military and the conflict they fought was announced, starting with “Charles J. Shelton. United States Navy. World War II.”
[End of article]