Military funeral held for 11 unclaimed Utah veterans
Missing in America Project • Forgotten heroes laid to rest.
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Bluffdale • As taps played outside the Utah Veterans Memorial Chapel, mourners inside began to cry for eleven strangers.

On the table sat eleven urns of ashes with eleven folded flags: due honors bestowed late for eleven veterans whose remains went unclaimed until now.

The Missing In America Project on Thursday hosted its second military funeral for Utah veterans whose families never collected their remains — in most cases because next of kin could not be found. Among the veterans were three World War II soldiers, three combat veterans who served in Vietnam and one who served in Korea.

"Paying final tribute on behalf of a grateful nation is a solemn and sacred tradition," said Roger Graves, Utah's MIAP coordinator.

The group received the cremains from where they had been stored at Deseret Mortuary in Salt Lake City and Tate Mortuary in Tooele. A procession carried them to the Bluffdale cemetery, where they were greeted by an honor guard.

"We can't give enough to the people who have served our country and who serve our country now," said Utah State Sen. Evan J. Vickers, of Cedar City. About 50 people gathered in the chapel to pay respects, including 10 members of the family of Army Staff Sgt. Ralph George Hartley, who served for 11 years, including a tour in Vietnam. Hartley's siblings said they were unable to host a funeral after Hartley's death in 2010 because of a family dispute over his remains.

On Thursday, Hartley's eldest sister, Maryann Edgeman, of Tooele, received Hartley's memorial flag and the formal thanks of the honor guard.

"For our family, this is beyond anything I can say," Edgeman said. "It means everything."

Hartley's family has a deep military tradition; all four of his brothers were veterans and most of his sisters married servicemen, Edgeman said.

"He was very proud," Edgeman said. Hartley lived in Ogden and Tooele.

Four other veterans' flags were folded and given to volunteers, recognizing one veteran each from the Army, the Air Force, the Navy and the Marine Corps.

Those flags and the remainingsix flags will be returned if MIAP eventually locates their families, Graves said.

The cremains were to be buried alongside 15 other veterans who were honored by MIAP in a similar ceremony two years ago, Graves said.

The eleven veterans are:

• Robert Clifford Baird (1929-2009), who served in the U.S. Army from 1953-1955; Korean War.

• Wayne Monroe Butcher (1941-2009), who served in the U.S. Marines from 1958-1962.

• John Eaton Cox (1948-2010), who served in the U.S. Air Force in 1969; Vietnam.

• Dennis S. Fischer (1953-2011), who served in the U.S. Air Force from 1972-1981.

• Howard William Gnadt (1928-2010), who served in the U.S. Army from 1946-1948; WWII.

• Ralph George Hartley (1953-2010), who served in the U.S. Army from 1971-1982; Vietnam.

• George August Heitschmidt (1923-2003), who served in the U.S. Army from 1943-1946; WWII.

• Irvin D. Nickisch (1925-2011), who served in the U.S. Army from 1944-1946; WWII.

• Gary Andrew Savold (1939-2012), who served in the U.S. Army from 1960-1963.

• Jimmie Wayne Tackitt (1943-2011), who served in the U.S. Marines in 1960.

• Dexter Kent Wilson (1941-1991), who served in the U.S. Navy from 1960-1964; Vietnam.

Also honored during the ceremony was Phyllis May Smith (1917-2011), wife of World War II Army veteran Jack Ivor Smith, who died in 1993. She will be buried alongside her husband in another cemetery, Graves said.

ealberty@sltrib.com