DENVER – The Colorado Chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America honored 19 forgotten veterans with a solemn ceremony at Fort Logan National Cemetery.
They were honors that the soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines had earned, but never received.
“Our guiding principal was and is that never again shall one generation of veterans abandon another,” said Lt. Col. David Steiner, USAF (Retired)
Chapter member Jim Topkoff said they discovered that there were literally thousands of unclaimed remains spread around the country that had never been recognized and never been given a proper military funeral.
He said members of Chapter 1071 took on the Honors Burial Program a year and a half ago, because of the way they were treated when they left the military.
“As the Vietnam veteran was released by the military, he was shunned by society,” Topkoff said. “In fact, when they got out, they were instructed not to wear their military uniforms…it was that bad.”
Chapter President Stan Paprocki told Denver7 that the unclaimed remains, some dating back 50 to 60 years, “are part of our family, and we are going to take care of them, despite the way we were treated.”
Last June, the group interred 30 veterans at Fort Logan. In April, they interred 22 more, and on Friday they interred 19, among them Nicolae Serbu, an Army Private who served during World War I.
“This is our third (ceremony),” Topkoff said, “and they get better every time. The people understand what we’re doing. We’re honored to do it and it’s an exciting thing to be a part of.”
Topkoff said chapter members reached out to the Colorado Woodworkers Guild and asked for help making the wooden urns.
“The guild volunteered to make them and donated them,” Paprocki said.
Topkoff told Denver7 that over the last several years, Vietnam Vets “have come to understand that people now appreciate what we’re doing, and we just conveyed that into an idea that we need to support all the veterans of all the wars, whether peace time or otherwise. That’s kind of where we’re at, as a group.”
During the ceremony, Steiner told those in attendance that the three grand essentials of happiness are having: something to do, something to love and something to hope for.
“As we inter these unclaimed remains of 19 servicemen to eternal rest in this National Cemetery, under our beloved Colorado skies, we’re conscious of these three essentials. May they bring us happiness, as we have done something important, demonstrating our love of our country and our hope for peace everlasting.”