WEST DES MOINES, Iowa — For the fourth time, a West Des Moines Funeral home is stepping up to honor veterans who have served their country, but at the end of life, have no family to give them a proper burial.
Holly Miller of Hamilton’s Funeral Home, said the efforts to give veterans a proper burial started when one of their staff members was laid up at home, and wanted to work on something to keep busy. That’s when Lenae Strovers started going through the list of unclaimed people. She found a number of veterans with no family to claim the body.
“You might think I can’t believe that family wouldn’t pick up their loved ones and that’s not necessarily the case,” said Holly Miller/Hamilton Funeral Home. “As I found out a lot of these people just simply don’t have family to come and claim them.”
Miller said she then realized that if there wasn’t any family to claim them than there wasn’t any family to lay them to rest either.
“To us sitting on a shelf is not dignified,” Miller said. “It’s not respectful and so now it is our job to give them the dignity that they do deserve.”
Strovers has organized four such services, using volunteers to act as pall bearers and to take the place of family members when it comes to being presented a flag. Each veteran was placed in a wooden urn with their name engraved on it.
“It’s more than just a box those eight boxes hold the story of these people‘s lives,” said Strovers. “Christmas’ as a child, graduation memories of friends, excitement signing up to serve their country, and some of them going off to war.”
“The Americans we are today selflessly served our nations so that we might enjoy life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” said Tim Hadley, Chaplain Iowa National Guard. “They won’t be telling us how to honor them today but I believe that the Holmes’ proposition to think of life, and not of death is the best way to honor the fallen soldier.”
The funeral home released some information on each veteran:
Melvin Jackson Barnard was born on December 28, 1947 in Iowa. His parents were Delores and Melvin Barnard. He worked in construction most of his life. In 1968 he enlisted in the United States Army and served his country for two years. He received the National Defense Service Medal during his time of service. Melvin died at the age of 71 on May 8, 2019.
Michael Robert Baxendale was born on October 4, 1950 to James and Suzy Baxendale in Salina, Kansas. He entered the United States Marine Corps in 1969, and served in Vietnam as a Corporal. He was awarded the National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Campaign Medal, Good Conduct Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, and a Rifle Marksmanship Badge. On December 19, 2006 Michael was married to Margaret in Kansas City, Missouri. Margaret is to be buried next to her husband. She was born on May 8, 1949 in Scotland. Michael died at the age of 69, on January 31, 2020, and Margie a few years later.
Larry John Carlin was born on December 31, 1952 in Washington, Iowa to Frances and Armour Carlin. He served in the United States Air Force. Larry passed away at the age of 69 on March 27, 2022 in Des Moines, Iowa.
Michael Garwood Myers was born on July 22, 1947 in Hamburg, IA to Marvel (Sipes) and Garwood Myers. After graduating from high school, Michael served his country in the US Navy, on the USS John F. Kennedy, where he received the National Defense Service medal. He later obtained his Bachelor’s degree on the GI bill and worked for Xerox Corporation. He died on April 18, 2021 in West Des Moines, Iowa.
Joseph Raymond Neves was born in Plymouth, Pennsylvania on December 13, 1925 to Joseph and Anna Neves. He served from 1944-1946 in the Unites States Army. He never married, and worked in the insurance industry. Joseph passed away at the age of 96 on January 26, 2022.
Jon Marcus Rice was born in Grinnell, Iowa on December 3, 1950 to Willis and Ruth Rice. He served in the Unites States Navy in 1970. He passed away at the age of 70, on October 4, 2021.
Lenis Lester Lang, 78, of Cedar Falls, was born April 24, 1944 and died Sunday, April 22, 2022 while a resident of Cedar Falls Health Care Center. Lang left no known family members and never married. Lang served in the United States Army from May 21, 1962 until August 16, 1968 having attained the rank of Sergeant. He was assigned to the 5th Battalion 31st Infantry Regiment 197th Infantry Brigade 3rd US Army. While serving in Vietnam, Lang was awarded the National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal with two Bronze Service Stars, Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal with Device, Combat Infantryman Badge, Overseas Bar, Expert Rifle and Expert Pistol.