KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The Department of Veterans Affairs claims there are anywhere between 10,000 and 50,000 unclaimed remains of veterans across the nation.
That reality came to light on Thursday afternoon at East Tennessee Veterans Cemetery, as the Dignity Memorial Homeless Veteran Burial program invited the public to bury four more.
Nearly 100 people came to pay their respects, including Steve Wessing and his sons, Lincoln and Jackson.
"It’s really important for us to be able to spend some time to honor those that we love," Steve said.
He admitted that he nor his sons know any one of the four men being buried. However, they appreciate the sacrifice those men made for our freedom.
"We just thought this was a way to show honor and respect to the fallen men and women and knowing that they didn't have a family opportunity," Steve said. "We thought well, we'll be their family for the day."
Steve said both of his sons grew up hearing stories from their grandfather, who was a service member. Steve said they always tell service members, "Thank you," for their service.
"Both of my boys have said that they would like to serve as well," Steve said.
Lincoln told 10News all about how he became interested in joining the airforce.
"I want to serve my country. And my dad thinks I should go to the Air Force because that's very close to here. And I also like planes," Lincoln said.
He then said the new Top Gun movie piqued his interest in being a pilot.
Both boys watched as the ceremony proceeded. Mayor Glenn Jacobs began with opening remarks about patriotism.
"Over the past 246 years, millions have sacrificed, sometimes their lives, to keep and protect the dream, that is America. Many of their names, too, are lost to history. We're here today to honor these veterans, to make sure that their names are heard, and remembered. But we should also remind ourselves that we can never forget the sacrifices made by men and women," Jacobs said.
Dr. Pat Paulus, the President of Captain Bill Robinson chapter 1078 Vietnam Veterans of America, followed with prayer and an oath to never forget the unclaimed.
"No veteran, no veteran should ever be buried alone," Paulus said. "So, we gather here as their extended family, for they carry our name, and we carry their veteran. While we may not have known them personally, we don't know if they carried old wounds like many of us, or struggled with the ghost of combat that still haunts many of us as well. But since they were veterans, we know this for sure. They were followers."
The speeches were followed by prayer, a ceremonial folding of the flag and three shots for duty, honor, and sacrifice. Lincoln didn't think twice about his favorite part.
"My favorite part was probably when they shot the guns, I wasn't expecting it," he said.
However, his dad felt something even more special.
"We claim them as part of our family. That's really how it is and It meant a lot to say, we claim them," Steve said.
Proving to his sons that the military family can run just as deep as blood.
All four unclaimed veteran's urns were buried beside one another in the cemetery.