One less man Missing In America


Author: Timothy Sandefur

Several months ago, PLF paralegal Pagona Stratoudakis found something she never expected to find. In the garage of an old house her boyfriend had purchased and was renovating, she came across an old wooden box containing the ashes of a person.

Along with the ashes was a death certificate, identifying the remains as those of Raymond Lee Culp, who died in Sacramento in 1983.

After he was cremated, his remains were held by a friend, the former owner of the home, who apparently never found a place to inter them before she succumbed to old age. So—what to do with Mr. Culp? The county coroner offered to hold the ashes until a next-of-kin came to claim them, but there was no telling how long that would be, and Pagona was unhappy at the thought that Mr. Culp would just sit on another shelf for a few more decades.

But Pagona had an idea. According to his death certificate, Mr. Culp was born in 1923—a member of the World War II generation. Pagona checked the National Archives’ website register of military servicemen, and sure enough, he turned up. On March 27, 1941, Mr. Culp had enlisted in the Army at Ft. Haynes, in Columbus, Ohio.

Pagona called the offices of Arlington Cemetery, but they were unable to help because they accept remains only from a next-of-kin. That’s when she came to me, to ask if I had any idea on how to inter someone in a military cemetery. I recommended that she contact the American Legion, and they put her in touch with a very special man, Fred Salanti, of the Missing In America Project.

Pagona Stratoudakis and Fred Salanti

The Missing In America Project is a non-profit organization devoted to finding final resting places for the remains of the many American veterans who, like Raymond Culp, have for some reason or other never been buried. In the five years they’ve been operating, MIAP has interred over a thousand veterans, including even some Civil War soldiers, whose ashes were sitting on a shelf since the 1920s.

The MIAP operates nationwide, and here in California, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed legislation last year which allows MIAP to identify unclaimed cremated remains of forgotten veterans, and inter them at a veteran’s cemetery. MIAP was able to confirm that, indeed, Corporal Raymond Culp of the U.S. Army was eligible for a military internment.

So, yesterday, I joined Pagona and several friends at the Veterans Cemetery in Dixon, California, for a simple, touching ceremony with Salanti and some volunteers who brought Mr. Culp’s remains—in a much nicer box—on their flag-decorated motorcycles.

A trio of uniformed soldiers performed a very dignified flag ceremony and played taps, presenting Pagona with the flag as the honorary next of kin.

Then Mr. Salanti spoke a few brief and touching words, and Cpl. Culp was finally laid to rest, after his 28 year wait.

Pagona Stratoudakis receives the flag as honorary next of kin

The Missing In America Project is truly a labor of love—a group of people devoted only to ensuring that our nation’s veterans, who put their lives on the line for us, are never forgotten. Raymond Culp may have waited a long time for this brief recognition, but the thanks of a grateful nation are his at last.

You can learn more about MIAP—and how you can help their efforts with a tax-deductible contribution—at their website.