100 Years After Death, Two Civil War Veterans Are Finally Laid to Rest

It doesn’t matter if your unclaimed remains collect dust in a funeral home for decades. If you’re a veteran, the Missing in America Project will find you.

A full-honors military funeral, a century in the making.
Brian Resnick
Brian Resnick
May 13, 2013, 7:46 a.m.
A full-honors military funeral, a century in the making. Brian Resnick
Staring down an aisle of the newest columbarium at Arlington National Cemetery, all of the marble plaques are blank. Brian Resnick

The Burial of (All) the Dead

Mod­ern pres­sures on the mil­it­ary are of­ten couched in the term “the toll of a dec­ade of war.” But here, in Ar­ling­ton, that toll is meas­ured in cen­tur­ies. The joint com­mit­tal ser­vice of the Mc­Cor­macks and four oth­er ser­vice mem­bers re­covered by the Mak­ing in Amer­ica pro­ject, marked the open­ing of the cemetery’s ninth and largest colum­bari­um court, an out­door con­crete garden-plaza for the com­mit­tal of ashes.

Without the new, 2.5 acre, $12.9 mil­lion colum­bari­um, the cemetery would have run out of space for ashes by 2016. (Cemetery of­fi­cials say that Ar­ling­ton may com­pletely run out of room by 2050.) For now, it’s 20,000 blank marble slabs; chilling to think that over the next dec­ades they will be mostly filled.

Colv­in was wear­ing a biker vest as the crowd milled around the colum­bari­um, but his wife, Di­anna, was in full Vic­tori­an-era fu­ner­al garb, black lace, bon­net, and all. If the Mc­Cor­macks had wives (and had died dur­ing the war), this is what the wo­men would have worn to the fu­ner­al. “Today, we are the fam­ily” is a com­mon re­frain of the Miss­ing in Amer­ica mem­bers, something Di­anna is tak­ing to lit­er­al heart. “I just wanted to be ap­pro­pri­ate, down to the type of ma­ter­i­al, to rep­res­ent the fam­ily,” she said.

Ini­tially seen as a short-term pro­ject, Salanti now won­ders if the pro­ject can ever end. However many un­claimed vet­er­ans there are, a great many more are out there who were not in the mil­it­ary, their names also lost to his­tory. While the Miss­ing in Amer­ica Pro­ject does not seek to get them in­terred, they are still ad­ded to the data­base.

“That’s the sad crux of this whole prob­lem: We’re identi­fy­ing the vet­er­ans … be­cause it is easy to get state laws passed for vet­er­ans,” Salanti says. “But we main­tain a data­base of every­one we in­vent­ory, and someday I’m go­ing to go back knock­ing.”

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