Spring 2009 Edition NJDMAVA Veterans

About NJ Veteran Journal:
The New Jersey Veteran Journal is an official publication of the New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs and is intended to serve New Jersey's veterans, their families, friends and concerned individuals and groups. All correspondence should be sent to:

Veteran Journal Editor, NJDMAVA/PA, PO Box 340,
Trenton, NJ 08625-0340

Cremains to receive final honors
Story by Wayne Woolley, NJDMAVA/PA; photo by Tech. Sgt. Mark Olsen, NJDMAVA/PA

Roman P. Nidzwiedz (second from left), Assemblyman Jack Conners (fourth from left) and Senator Jeff Van Drew (third from right), along with veterans group representatives watch as Governor Jon S. Corzine (seated) signs into law A2613/S1579 granting veteran organizations the right to receive unclaimed veterans cremains and ensure that they receive a proper military burial.

The disturbing news reports from around the country began trickling in a few years ago and Roman P. Nidzwiedz, a decorated Vietnam veteran from Evesham, couldn’t stop thinking about them.

Listening to the news, he learned that the cremated remains of veterans had been discovered languishing on shelves in funeral homes, hospitals and prisons, unclaimed and unburied for years. More than 100 at a mental hospital in Oregon. Another 25 at a nursing home in Nevada. Scattered reports of smaller numbers from funeral homes across the country.

The likelihood that at least a few veterans’ cremains remained in limbo in New Jersey spurred Nidzwiedz and several fellow members of Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 899 in Bordentown to action. They began calling state legislators, ultimately finding allies in Assemblyman Jack Conners (D-Burlington), chairman of the Assembly Veterans and Military Affairs Committee and Senator Jeff Van Drew (D-Cape May/Cumberland/Atlantic).

The three-year effort paid off on Feb. 4 when Gov. Jon Corzine signed A2613/S1579, a law that gives veterans’ organizations the right to receive unclaimed cremains of veterans in order arrange for a proper military burial at sea or on land at the Brigadier General William C. Doyle Memorial Cemetery in Burlington County. The governor signed the bill into law at the cemetery in a conference room filled with more than two dozen veterans.

“Every veteran who served and defended our nation deserves the dignity of a proper burial,” Corzine said. “This law ensures that all veterans are honored with the respect and dignity owed them by the State of New Jersey and the United States.”

In addition to the Vietnam Veterans of America and the Veterans of Foreign Wars, other veterans’ organizations that supported the legislation include the American Legion, Disabled American Veterans, American Veterans, Catholic War Veterans, Jewish War Veterans and the Marine Corps League. A group of volunteers from these organizations and other veterans’ groups will serve on the New Jersey Mission of Honor Cremains Committee, which will coordinate the transfer of the cremains.

In cases where the remains are to be buried at the Doyle Veterans Cemetery, the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs will play a key role in ensuring that the cremains are, in fact, that of a veteran, said retired Col. Stephen G. Abel, the Deputy Commissioner for Veterans Affairs. Abel said DMAVA will work with veterans’ groups to ensure that all documents related to the military service record of the deceased are in order, as is required for interment in the Doyle Cemetery, the busiest state-operated veterans’ cemetery in the United States.

The first interment — the remains of a World War II veteran who died more than two decades ago and then remained at a funeral home in Bergen County — will be at the Doyle cemetery in April.

Nidzwiedz will be there. He did not know that man when he was alive. It doesn’t matter.

“He who shed blood on the battlefield is my brother,” Nidzwiedz said. “Always.”