Missing in America Project finds unclaimed remains of veterans

Volunteers search funeral homes, morgues to find remains and give them chance at proper burial

By Guy Gordon - Reporter/Anchor
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DETROIT - In morgues and funeral home across America lie the unclaimed remains of military heroes.

They are veterans who either have no family or no one willing or able to take responsibility for their burial.

They are the MIA -- Missing in America.

But there's another group of everyday heroes who are working to make sure veterans get to the final resting place they deserve.

Milton Shaw was a graduate of Yale and Princeton. He was a brilliant linguist, fluent in 10 languages and worked translating Russian for the military during the Cold War.

After his discharge, he was an accomplished computer programmer. When he died in 1991, he was cremated and his family held a memorial service. But they family couldn't decide what to do with his ashes.

"They didn't see anything there that was appropriate," said Barbara Zitzewitz, Shaw's sister.

So, Shaw's remains sat on a shelf in a local funeral home.

That's where the Missing In America Project steps in, searching for the remains of vets – like Shaw's.

They search morgues and funeral facilities across the country to identify vets among the thousands of unclaimed Americans. They then seek out the next of kin so a burial can be arranged.

"This is good work," said Mary Compeau, who volunteers to do research in Michigan for the project. "Every single veteran, we owe them a burial with honor and respect."

Compeau helped discover 7 Michigan vets out of 700 funeral homes.

On July 26, Shaw, along with another veteran, will be buried with full military honors at the Great Lakes National Cemetery in Holly.

The group needs volunteers and donations. They're also working with lawmakers to help break down barriers such as laws that prohibit funeral homes from releasing information on abandoned remains.

For more information, or to donate to the MIA project, click here.

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