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Not forgotten: Unaccompanied veterans burial ceremony takes place in Laurel

'President Abraham Lincoln said that we will never let a veteran die alone'
Yellowstone National Cemetery
Posted at 10:26 AM, Jul 04, 2024

LAUREL — From family to freedom, there's a lot to be thankful for this Independence Day, and it's thanks to the veterans.

Three vets were laid to rest Wednesday afternoon in the Yellowstone National Cemetery in Laurel.

Yellowstone National Cemetery
Yellowstone National Cemetery

Community members gathered in recognition of their sacrifices and achievements.

What's different from regular veteran burial ceremonies, is this one was about unaccompanied veterans, or veterans who die without any known family to lay them to rest.

So, through rain or sunshine, the Yellowstone National Cemetery holds these burial ceremonies four times a year. This ceremony just happened to fall the day before Independence Day.

"The ceremony is here to make sure that none of their service is forgotten," said retired U.S. Army Colonel and Laurel Cemetery committee member James Mariska.

James Mariska
James Mariska, Retired U.S. Army Colonel

The three veterans honored were Gregory Vanmetre, U.S. Navy, David Kelsey, U.S. Marine Corps, and David Battles, U.S. Marine Corps.

Unfortunately besides their name, title and rank, there's very little information behind the lives of these veterans, making their story almost a mystery.

"I get their information about what their rank was, what military branch they served. I mean, the bare minimum that we need to make sure he's placed properly," Yellowstone National Cemetery Manager Stephen McCollum says.

Stephen McCollum
Stephen McCollum, Yellowstone National Cemetery Manager

These men may now peacefully rest among their brothers in arms.

"Well, you can see when you look over (at the cemetery), there's a lot of headstones up there. And there's a lot of people who have put their lives on the line to protect our country, protect our freedoms, and make sure that you know our way of life is preserved," said Mariska.

Yellowstone National Cemetery
Yellowstone National Cemetery

The purpose of these burials is two-fold. Not only do these ceremonies provide a service to veterans who die without a family, it's also a way to bury them with their honors, which is what McCollum says it's all about.

"It's honoring our veterans. That's the whole point of it. We honor our veterans, we ensure that they don't die alone. I mean that's the catch phrase, 'No veterans die alone," he said.

Unaccompanied veteran's burial
Unaccompanied veteran's burial

The "catch phrase" McCollum is referring to is one by President Abraham Lincoln, "No veterans die alone." Yellowstone National Cemetery members have been working to keep that promise.

The ceremonies are open to the public and both Mariska and McCollum encourage the community to attend, veterans and non-veterans, alike. The next ceremony is expected to be in October.

"We are happy to have the public here. We are happy to have anyone come, to honor these veterans, and make sure that they are properly cared for and properly honored," says McCollum.

Unaccompanied veteran's burial
Unaccompanied veteran's burial