MEDFORD >> Mickey Zawatcki, the Past Grand Knight of Knights of Columbus Council 6520 based out of St. Mary of the Lakes Church in Medford, recently learned of the N.J. Mission of Honor Program and immediately stepped up by raising $8,400 to support the honorable interment of orphaned and abandoned remains of American Veterans.
“Several of my brother Knights and myself were recently at one of the interment ceremonies for 12 Veterans, it was an emotional event shared by numerous servicemen, a Veteran’s motorcycle motorcade, and generals from each branch of service,” Zawatcki said. “We were even presented with a flag and a framed bio of a serviceman being interred. It was nice to see these Veteran’s finally receive the honor they each deserve.”
Through the N. J. Mission of Honor Program, so far in the state of New Jersey, the remains of 618 Veterans have been located dating back to the Spanish-American War (1898) and 273 of those Veterans have been honorably interred while 345 Veterans were reunited with family and loved ones.
“I was surprised and appalled to find out that there are hundreds of cremated remains of American Veterans that have been abandoned or orphaned, and are left sitting on shelves of funeral homes, crematoriums, veteran’s homes, senior homes, prisons and hospitals,” Zawatcki said. “These remains are sometimes stored in trash bags, boxes and even old coffee cans.”
Zawatcki explained that the average length of time the cremains of veterans, who “are the very men and women who dedicated themselves and sometimes fought for our freedom and country,” have been abandoned is 28 years and some as long as 70 years.
The Medford resident also explained that through volunteer efforts of the N.J. Mission of Honor Program, the department of the Military and Veterans Affairs will assist in the:
• Searching and claiming cremains of veterans around the state,
• Identification of the service history and biography of the veteran,
• Locate any remaining family of the veteran, if any exist,
• Returning of the cremains to family,
• or provide proper, honorable interment with full military honors at Brigadier General Doyle Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Wrightstown, N.J.
“Even with the work of volunteers, proper interment for each veteran ends up costing $300,” said Zawatcki, who spoke after all Masses at St. Mary of the Lakes on the weekend of Nov. 2-3.
Fr. Dan Swift, the pastor of St. Mary of the Lakes Church, offered to help through a second collection conducted on November 10, just prior to Veteran’s Day.
The $8,400 proceeds from this collection were presented by Swift and Zawatcki last week to Jerry Skorch, Vice-Chairman & State Chaplain of the N.J. Mission of Honor Program.
“On behalf of the N.J. Mission of Honor Program and American Veterans and Knights of Columbus Council 6520, we are extremely grateful to the parishioners of St Mary of the Lakes for their amazing support,” Zawatcki said.