Monthly service brings closure to 10 servicemen who went unnoticed for decades
By Steve Ranson, Lahontan Valley News Editor Emeritus
The brisk afternoon wind on Friday gave a distinguished look to the many United States flags waving in rows at the Northern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery.
With the Stars & Stripes providing a patriotic, yet solemn presence for a military service for 10 veterans, almost 100 guests, veterans and dignitaries bowed their heads to honor the men’s duty and dedication to their country. The Nevada Veterans Coalition conducted its 10th mission at the cemetery by honoring these veterans whose remains have been in the care of Walton’s Funeral Homes, yet were unclaimed for years, some for decades.
“It’s 17 days until Memorial Day,” said Kat Miller, director of the Nevada Department of Veterans Services. “For Irvin Smith, one of those we will inter today, it’s been 44 years that he’s missed a Memorial Day, 44 years and he hasn’t been honored at a Memorial Day.”
Miller said if the lost years were added for the 10 veterans being honored at Friday’s service, the total number of years of them missing Memorial Day would reach 281. She said the ceremony is not about politics, their type of military service, their background or belief but about them, and if they could say a few words to the living, Miller said the thoughts would be brief.
“Thank you for bringing us home,” Miller said.
Tom Draughon, spokesman for the NVC and narrator for the ceremony, said one veteran had been on a funeral home’s shelf since 1974, another since 1976. Beginning in February 2017, NVC volunteers have worked with Walton’s Funerals and Cremations, which has provided a database to begin the identification process of the unidentified veterans; researchers from the National Personnel Records Center to piece together each person’s background; and the NNVMC for guiding the coalition through the proper procedures to conduct these services.
Rick Noel, who spoke on behalf of Walton’s, said many funeral homes across the country have faced similar dilemmas to identify the remains of forgotten veterans, then conducted proper military services.
“Every life deserves to be remembered, and every life properly put to rest,” Noel said.
Since early 2017, Noel said the process to identify veterans produced substantial results, and the NVC has conducted monthly services for more than 100 veterans. Noel said it’s also taken extensive research to determine the eligibility for each veteran to be buried at the NNVMC, one of two state veterans’ cemeteries in Nevada.
Nevada Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske echoed Noel’s speech, thanking those who made Friday’s ceremony possible and also remembering the veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice, but whose remains were unclaimed until Friday.
Congressman Mark Amodei, R-Carson City, a U.S Army veteran, recognizes the importance of honoring the servicemen. He thanked the various organizations and businesses for working on this task.
“I am humbled to be in presence and in front of the people making this happen,” he said.
Glenna Smith, congressional representative for Sen. Dean Heller, thanked individuals from the coalition and cemetery for their hours of hard work and also recognized the Patriot Guard for assisting with the procession for the remains from Sparks to the cemetery. She also noted one of the veterans being honored served in the U.S. Coast Guard.
A police escort led the procession earlier in the afternoon from Sparks, through Fernley,
where people held signs or waved flags and finally to the cemetery, the veterans’ final home.
Lynda Freeman, coordinator for the Missing in Nevada project, read the names of each veteran:
- Eldon Selhime, (1918-1992), U.S. Coast Guard, 1941-1944, WWII.
- Patrick Silva, 1951-2002, U.S. Marine Corps, 1968-1971, Vietnam.
- Irvin Smith, 1913-1974, U.S. Army, 1942-1943, WWII.
- Salvatore Spitale, 1921-1993, U.S. Army 1943-1946, WWII.
- Gregory Sutton, 1953-2001, U.S. Army, 1972-1975, Vietnam.
- Robert Tenkotte, 1925-1976, U.S. Army, 1943-1946, WWII.
- Edward Wallace, 1934-1976, U.S. Army, 1953-1956, Korea.
- Ronald White, 1943-1994, U.S. Army, 1968-1971, Vietnam.
- Leo Williams, 1920-1997, U.S. Army, 1944-1964, WWII/Korea.
- Phillip Pippen, 1920-1976, U.S. Army/U.S. Air Force, 1941-1956, WWII/Korea.
Before bagpiper Al McNeil led guests to the columbarium to place handcrafted urns into the slots, Cegavske received a folded flag that had been placed in front of the urns, the NVC honor guard fired a three-volley salute and a bugler played “Taps.”