Marion County nonprofit honors veterans, lays to rest unclaimed remains

Council makes sure vets are buried properly

This Marion County group works to identify forgotten veterans, find next of kin, and provide a proper burial.

OCALA, Fla. – A local nonprofit is getting results in Marion County by making sure veterans who may have been forgotten get a proper burial.

“We want to tell that story, so they don’t walk that last leg of their journey alone,” said one man during a Marion County Veterans Council meeting.

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The Marion County Veterans Council says its mission is to make sure every veteran’s story has a proper ending.

The council work with the county’s unclaimed bodies program to help lay to rest veterans who may have been forgotten.

“What we do is actually have a full service, we try and get as much information about the veteran’s service, branch, where they were, what they did, so that our chaplain can really personalize the service,” said Suzy McGuire, who is the secretary of the Marion County Veterans Council.

The council helps to find the next of kin to ensure a reunion with their loved ones. When that doesn’t happen, the council then begins working to provide a proper burial.

The latest happened earlier this month. The council held a memorial service at Forest Lawn Cemetery for Robert Hamill Sr. and Charles Wesley II.

Both died this past December. Hamill served in the Coast Guard and Wesley was a Vietnam veteran serving in the Army.

“We do background checks and things of that nature to get as much information as possible regarding this,” said chaplain Michael Kelso.

Kelso tells News 6 that a challenge for these services has been making sure they have enough information to give veterans a proper service.

“The Army guy was an E-4, which is a specialist and the Coast Guardsman we had very little, so I relied upon my experience in the Coast Guard. I was able to give a broad general idea what he may have done,” Kelso said.

The Marion County Veterans Council says as they continue working with the unclaimed bodies program, they need more veterans, whether they are homeless, have low income, or limited family members, to know where their DD-214 is, which holds their entire military history.

“That is the whole thrust about getting as much information as possible, so we can personalize,” Kelso said. “This gentleman did this and this is what he was doing, this is where he was at.”

Marion County has now gone into a contract with Roberts Funeral Home to help with unclaimed bodies.

The council, spear-heading the efforts, says they’ll continue to honor their own no matter the cost.

”Whether they have served 4 years or 20-plus years into retirement, we want to make sure they are honored and not forgotten,” McGuire said.

About the Author:

Brian Didlake joined the News 6 team as a reporter in March 2021.