How one man is uncovering the remains of unclaimed soldiers
By Sophie Pappas
Bart Colvin’s family is expanding every day, with people he’s never met and offspring he hasn’t fathered.
“I know I’m all these people have got,” Colvin said.
Colvin is a local veteran, and American Legion member, who is part of a nonprofit group called the Missing in America Project. He helps the MIP find the lost veterans of America, whose ashes sit in funeral homes after family and friends leave them unclaimed.
Many funeral homes in Central Indiana have stored the ashes of these veterans in plastic containers marked with just their names and dates of death.
According to Colvin, funeral homes are not legally obligated to store the remains of unclaimed ashes, but many go “above and beyond” by storing hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of ashes in cellars or marble tombs.
“The most important thing is for me to gain the trust of the funeral homes,” Colvin said. “Then they know that I’m doing a good thing and they will let me see their unclaimed remains.”
Sometimes this means removing large marble doors to enter seven feet-by-eight feet deep crypts. Many of the remains he finds are labeled “baby” or “infant,” “girl” or “boy.” No names and no family.
“It’s the right thing to do, because these men can’t be forgotten,” Colvin said. “These people can’t be forgotten.”
Last year, Colvin searched through hundreds of unclaimed remains at Flanner and Buchanan’s Floral Park cemetery in Indianapolis. He found 15 potential veterans, five of which turned out to be the legitimate remains of war vets.
Two of these men were Civil War veterans and brothers, Zuinglius and Lycurgus McCormack.
Colvin used online records on the popular genealogy website, Ancestry.com, to determine who these men were when they were alive.
He found that Zuinglius was an Army 1st Lt. and lived from 1843 to 1912. He served with the Indiana 132nd Infantry Regiment in 1864. He saw action with Maj. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman’s Army of the Tennessee in such campaigns as Buzzard Roost, Dallas, Kennesaw Mountain and the Battle of Jonesboro.
His brother, Lycurgus, was an Army Pvt. and lived from 1845 to 1908. He served with the Indiana 103rd Inf. Regt. and saw action in July 1863 helping to repel a Confederate force of 6,000 under Brig. Gen. John Morgan in what would become the Battle of Corydon, the only Civil War battle fought in Indiana.
The brothers were never married, and had a third sibling named Charles. Charles is believed to have lived in Indianapolis his whole life, although nobody knows what happened to him or why he did not claim the remains of his brothers.
Within two weeks of finding these men, Colvin was approached by the MIP national headquarters and asked if he would travel to Arlington National Cemetery to bury the remains of the McCormack brothers. The brothers were the first to be inurned in the cemetery’s ninth and last columbarium.
“My wife and I felt so humbled to be a part of something like this,” Colvin said. “It’s not about the recognition, it’s about doing the right thing. When these men took an oath to be in the service, they were promised that they would be buried in a national cemetery. It’s actually the only thing you’re promised when you enlist.”
Colvin and his wife, Dianna, travelled to Washington D.C. with the ashes. Dianna even purchased an antique Civil War-era mourning gown to wear during the ceremony.
“Every urn we find is so fulfilling,” Colvin said. “And I just want the funeral homes and the people to know about what we are doing. We take full responsibility to the remains that we find, and they become our family.”
This month, Colvin is burying three more veterans at the Marion National Cemetery, in Marion, Indiana. He and the American Legion Riders, a motorcycle brigade, will drive the urns from Zionsville to Marion on April 26, following a memorial service in Zionsville.
But Colvin said he is not stopping with these five soldiers.
“It’s amazing how many unclaimed remains there really are,” Colvin said. “There’s a lot more to do.”
Did you know?
More than 4,000 unclaimed human remains are stored in Central Indiana funeral homes.
Come to the send-off ceremony for three unclaimed soldiers
10 a.m. Saturday, April 26 at the Zionsville American Legion Trail Crossing. This is located at the top of the Rail Trail at 721 Ford Rd.
These are the three Unclaimed Soldiers and their dates of death
Hiram Maine 12/13/1927
Forest Smith 11/22/1935
Leo Valdez Jr. 01/05/1979