Unclaimed veterans' ashes buried in Farmingdale
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To the clop-clop of a riderless horse and the squeal and clank of the caisson that bore them, the ashes of two Civil War veterans arrived at Long Island National Cemetery Saturday -- after being forgotten in a Queens mortuary for nearly a century.
More than 100 people gathered near the cemetery's rows of white tombstones to honor 34 veterans who were never buried because their cremated remains went unclaimed.
The ceremony, featuring a gun salute, taps, Civil War re-enactors in Union Army garb and the release of four white doves, drew a wide swath of veterans and their advocates. Among them were parents of deployed and slain soldiers, and members of the Patriot Guard Riders, a motorcycle group that provides escorts for military funerals.
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"There is an expression that true death only occurs when the memory of a person is lost or forgotten," said Leonard Holtz, 56, of West Hartford, Conn., whose great-grandfather served with Henry Eggers, a Union soldier whose ashes were among those honored. "Today, Eggers lives again."
The ashes of the 34 veterans and nine wives of veterans -- whose deaths ranged from 1917 to 1999 -- are to be interred at the cemetery.
The cremains were identified through the efforts of John Caldarelli of the Missing in America Project, an organization dedicated to locating, identifying and interring unclaimed remains of veterans.
Caldarelli, a member of the American Legion post in Greenlawn, had asked for help locating unclaimed remains while addressing a group of veterans in Queens. That led to a meeting with the director of Fresh Pond Crematory in Middle Village, who said his mortuary since 1917 had accumulated 1,800 sets of unclaimed ashes.
Caldarelli enlisted the help of volunteer genealogists, who combed through census records and other documents, including military archives at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis. A picture of the long-forgotten men began to emerge.
A genealogist in Florida located documents and old newspapers showing that one of the Civil War veterans, Emanuel Lederer, was born in Hungary in 1842, and became a U.S. citizen five years after the war.
Lederer, who then lived in Manhattan, enlisted a month after the start of the Civil War, reached the rank of captain and was discharged on March 21, 1864. He became a newsman and actor. His 1917 obituary ran in The New York Times.
But even though a funeral was scheduled at the 150 E. 74th Street home where he died, his remains somehow were forgotten. The ashes languished on a shelf at the Queens crematory.
Mortuaries find themselves in possession of unclaimed remains with surprising regularity, said Fresh Pond president Joseph P. Di Troia.
"They go unclaimed, or they're left in someone's closet, or they're discovered when a house is being torn down," he said. "They end up here."
Although Eggers died in relative obscurity in 1921, his rediscovery excited members of the "Garibaldi Guard," a group of Civil War re-enactors who honor the 37th New York Volunteer Infantry.
Holtz, affiliated with members of that group, realized that his great-grandfather had enlisted in the same 100-member Company K that Eggers had. Both enlisted on the same day in New York: Jan. 4, 1864.
Holtz pored over military records which yielded a physical description of his ancestor's long-dead brother in arms. Eggers, whose occupation was "milkman," stood 5-foot-4, with blond hair and fair skin.
Within a month of enlisting, Eggers became disabled -- records don't specify how -- and he was discharged at Stevensburg, Va. He married a woman named Carolina and died in Brooklyn in 1921.
David Schnupp, 59, was among two dozen Civil War re-enactors who stood through the hourlong ceremony. He joined the 67th New York Volunteer Infantry after moving from Farmingville to Philadelphia several years ago.
"It's an unbelievable honor," said Schnupp, cradling a muzzleloading rifle. "I never thought I'd get an opportunity to be involved in the interment of a Civil War soldier. It's pretty awesome."