‘Everyone deserves a final resting place’

Serving in the U.S. Army, Terrence Sund drowned while searching a tunnel in Vietnam 1967. His body was sent home and was cremated. Then, his cremated remains were interred in a room at a cemetery in Wisconsin for decades.

Thanks to Department of Wisconsin American Legion efforts, Sund received a full military burial last summer. And the department has helped draft a bill that will ensure the remains of veterans not claimed by family members will be released so that the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs (WDVA) can arrange a military burial at one of the state’s veteran cemeteries.

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Legionnaire Steve Conto was able to raise funds so that Sund could get the funeral he deserved. Since then, the Department of Wisconsin has set up a fund to assist with burial costs for similar deceased veterans.

Department Adjutant Dave Kurtz said the effort has been a partnership between the Legion, Gov. Scott Walker and the WDVA. Waukesha County Veterans Service Officer Tom Ludka was instrumental in helping with the legislation, and Department Vice Commander Cooper “has really picked up the torch on this effort,” Kurtz said.

Cooper, a member of Post 80 in New Richmond, said he couldn’t get the Sund story out of his head. He formed a committee tasked with seeing if there were any other veterans’ remains in similar situations in Wisconsin’s District 10.

Finding three, Cooper then expanded his search to the rest of the state, reaching out to more than 650 funeral homes. More than 40 such remains have been found. “I know there are more,” Cooper said. “There are a couple funeral home directors who have just started going through their records, or their records are in really bad shape.”

Of the remains that have been located, their situation usually falls into three categories, Cooper said: 25 percent have no known next of kin, 25 percent’s families have been unresponsive, and 50 percent have families who are happy to have the Legion help with the burial.

“To me, these guys are as important as POWs or MIAs,” Cooper said of the veterans’ remains. “They just happen to be on American soil. Everyone deserves a final resting place. These happen to be veterans who deserve full military honors. I’m going to make damn sure they get it.”