Martin C. Evans

Posts Tagged ‘Homelessness’

Lost, But Not Forgotten: Twenty Indigent Vets Buried at Calverton

In Uncategorized on January 9, 2011 at 4:09 pm

BY MARTIN C. EVANS, NEWSDAY – Amid the sound of bagpipes and the rattle of drums, ushered by kilted pipers past the solemn salutes of hundreds of well-wishers, the remains of 20 indigent U.S. military veterans were carried to their final resting places at Calverton National Cemetery Saturday.

The burial, attended by Reps. Steve Israel (D-Dix Hills) and Tim Bishop (D-Southampton), was the largest interment of unclaimed remains at any local veterans cemetery in the nation’s history, according to U.S. Veterans Affairs spokesman Jim Blue. Had they not been identified as veterans, who are entitled to burial in military cemeteries, the dead likely would have been sent to the city’s Potters Field.

The burial of indigent vets drew hundreds of veterans who paid their respects, including L.W. Murphy, a Vietnam veteran from Blue Point.

“These are virtually forgotten veterans who were literally left on the shelf,” said Lawrence Murphy, of Blue Point, who served in Vietnam in 1969 and 1971. Murphy, 62, was one of scores of flag-bearing veterans who formed a human colonnade at the cemetery’s snowbound entrance, as hearses bearing the 20 veterans eased past.

“To have the chance to recognize guys who have been forgotten is an honor.”

Burials done at no cost

The interments were arranged by Dignity Memorial, a nationwide network of funeral homes, after the City of New York asked for help with the burial of indigent veterans who had died there and had gone unclaimed at city morgues, some for as long as three years. Dignity Memorial provided the burials at no cost, said spokesman Chris Marsh.

Only the tiniest bits of these men’s lives are known, gleaned from a variety of decades-old records rendered incomplete or partly illegible by inattentive typists, poor photocopying or the yellowing of time. Records that might have given full military biographies to some of the men were lost in a 1973 fire at the U.S. Military Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, which destroyed 16 million files.

But what records did show was that these 20 men had served their country from the 1940s through the 1970s in a variety of ranks, from private first class and medical field service technician to master sergeant.

Clifford Henry, 58, a former Navy petty officer 2nd class, had been a medical field service technician and a small-arms marksman. His place of enlistment was recorded as Jacksonville, N.C. The record is silent about where he was born, whether he ever married or where any of his relatives might be today.

James Rose was born in 1926 and died July 31. Nothing else – not his hometown, nor where he served, not even his Army rank – could be learned.

Terrance Holliday of the New York City Mayor’s Office of Veterans Affairs said the men had gone unburied for so long because it is often difficult to confirm the veteran status of people who die poor and alone. The city, which by law may not transport remains of the dead beyond the city limits, depends on third-party organizations to bring indigent veterans to nearby veterans cemeteries.

Word quickly spread

Despite the anonymity in which the men died, word of their planned burial raced through area patriotic groups in the past week, spurring a larger than expected turnout of well wishers, organizers said.

Along the route the funeral procession took from the Queens border to the cemetery, volunteer fire companies strung huge American flags, and onlookers saluted from highway overpasses. Members of the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion Riders, Patriot Guard Riders, Nam Knights MC, US Veterans MC and Patriot Knights MC came out in force.

At the cemetery, several people who stood in the snow, including Bill and Rosetta Araujo, of Glen Oaks, Queens, wondered whether difficulty coping with post-military life had isolated the men.

“They just get lost,” said Rosetta Araujo. She said her husband still struggles with nightmares and bouts of rage related to his Vietnam War experience.

The ceremony drew several parents of Long Islanders killed in Iraq or Afghanistan. As the ceremony ended, members of a military honor guard folded American flags that had draped some of the coffins and presented them to these parents.

Chrystyna Kestler, whose son, Army 1st Lt. Joseph Theinert, of Sag Harbor, was killed June 4 in Afghanistan, said she felt compelled to attend.

“I can hold this flag as a mother for a veteran who did not have family here,” said Kestler, who received a flag that had covered the coffin of Pfc. Miguel Lugo, an artilleryman who served in the 1950s and who died last year. “That is a privilege and an honor.”


Friend of needy vets, Shoreham’s Stephen Clark dies of cancer

In Uncategorized on December 10, 2010 at 5:38 pm

Stephen Clark, pictured in Kuwait in 2006, said his job there processing trucks destroyed on Iraq battlefields convinced him that some US troops would need help adjusting to civilian life.

Despite a fast-spreading cancer that had riddled his body with agonizing tumors, Stephen Clark, the Shoreham founder of a veteran’s charity, wanted to lend his support that October night.

Having learned that a soldier was coming home from a jail sentence many considered unjust, the founder of 9-1-1 Veterans struggled out of a sick bed to join the crowd of well-wishers who greeted the soldier at a Rocky Point veterans hall.

“We have a duty to let veterans know that no matter what, they are not alone,” Clark told Newsday at the veterans hall Oct. 29.

Clark, 54, a Suffolk police firearms instructor who spent the last three years of his life helping veterans regain control over their lives, died shortly before noon Wednesday at a Port Jefferson hospice. His wife Terry was by his side.

Since its founding 2007, Clark’s  organization has distributed more than $200,000 to veterans in need of help with rent and mortgage payments, car repairs, utility bills and other challenges, according to Chris Delaney, who took over much of the charity’s workings as Clark’s health declined. 9-1-1 Veterans doled  $18,000 in aid last month, Delaney said.

Clark, who started the charity by passing a bucket among his colleagues  at the Suffolk Police Academy, eventually built a network of individuals and organizations who were willing to collect money and refer needy vets. Last June, MacArthur Airport raised more than $30,000 for 9-1-1 Veterans by staging a charity run on the airport grounds.

One person who got help this year was Daryl Lewis, 42, a bus driver from Freeport and 20-year Army reservist who served in Baghdad in 2003.

Lewis said after an injury caused him to fall behind in his car payments and homeowners insurance earlier this year, a Department of Veterans Affairs social worker referred him to Clark, who provided cash to get him caught up.

“I’d been struggling for a year to catch up, but every time I’d come up for air, I’d sink again,” Lewis said. “That little push helped me so much.”

Clark often said his desire to help struggling veterans grew out of his appreciation for how his 33 years of military service helped him structure his life, and his belief that ex-GIs are unfairly left to fend for themselves once they are discharged from the military. He retired from the reserves this year with the rank of Command Master Chief.

“He told me this only once, that before he joined the Navy his life had gotten so low he was living out of his car,” said a sister-in-law, Irene Kamps, of Levittown. “He said the Navy saved his life.”

“Coming home and seeing guys he knew suffering, he was very upset that people were getting discharged and had to fend for themselves,” said Chris Delaney, who took over many of the charity’s workings this year as Clark’s health began to fail.

Clark, who immigrated from Bracknell, England when he was 13, joined the reserve in the 1970s. His wife had been a fellow reservist. He joined the Suffolk police force in 1987, and was named Officer of the Year in 1991 after pulling a victim from a burning vehicle. Last month, Suffolk Executive Steve Levy presented Clark with the first-ever “Key to the County.”

In addition to his wife, Clark’s survivors include his daughter Ashley and son John, his mother and stepfather, Sheila and Arthur Forster, of Beverly Hills, Fl, and brothers Nicholas and Rory, of Florida, Brian, of North Carolina and Stuart, of Long Island.

Viewings are scheduled for 2-4 p.m. and 7-9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at O.B. Davis Funeral Home in Miller Place. Funeral at 10 a.m. Monday at Trinity Lutheran Church, in Rocky Point, followed by burial at Calverton National Cemetery.