Missing in America a community comes together to bring five veterans to their final resting place

While the city of San Antonio was gearing up for its annual Fiesta April 28, San Antonio Veterans had a more somber event to attend to, just north of Downtown at the Fort. Sam Houston National Cemetery. A ceremony with full military honors was held for the unclaimed cremains of five Veterans from Potter County (Amarillo), Texas.

The five Veterans that were identified and reached their resting place in San Antonio are:

  • Michael Topp
  • Michael Papencheck
  • Ronald Stevenson
  • Laird Orton Jr.
  • Jerry Harris

The Veterans finally received the honorable burial they rightfully earned. The effort began in the basement of the Potter County courthouse with Joyce Earnest of the Missing in America Project, Joel Carver of the A to D Mortuary in Amarillo and County Judge Nancy Tanner.

The Veterans began their journey to San Antonio with escort from the Texas Patriot Guard Riders, who completed the almost 500 mile journey from Amarillo with dignified hand-offs in counties along the way.

San Antonio Chapter Patriot Guard Rider Commander, Jean Clark said, "when a Veteran passes and does not have any family, we fill in for them, we become their family."

The ceremony was a collaborative effort of the staff of the VA National Cemetery in San Antonio, DOD, Patriot Guard Riders, Missing in America Project, local JROTC and the Ceremonial Teams made up of volunteers. They gave these Veterans a dignified burial with full military honors.

Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery Director, Elfrieda Robinson (far right), watches Navy and Air Force personnel conduct the flag folding ceremony.

Members of the MacArthur High School Junior ROTC

Members of the Memorial Services Detachment play taps.

Potter County Judge Nancy Tanner, accepts a flag on behalf of the Veteran. Tanner worked closely with MIAP Texas State Coordinator, Joyce Earnest, and told the 120 attendees that the whole process began when Carver asked her, "can I get a look at your records."

Fort Sam Houston Memorial Services Detachment Squad Leader Gene Kluwik, presented the guests that represented family for each Veteran a small engraved box containing the discharged shells fired, and recovered from the gun salute. Kluwik held each shell over his head, displaying them for the attendees. "The three shells represent Duty, Honor and Country," Kluwik proclaimed.

MIAP Texas Volunteer Joel Carver

Joel Carver closed the ceremony by talking about how important it is to provide a dignified burial for Veterans, not just in San Antonio, but across the country. MIAP has identified 3,393 Veteran cremains, and has interred 3,122 in the U.S. To put it into context, he shared a personal story.

"As we were driving through a small town in Texas, I saw a single lady standing by her pickup in a field in the middle of nowhere. As we passed her, she put her hand over her heart, because she knew we were coming."
Created By
Steven Goetsch
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Photos by Steve Goetsch

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