Two ‘unclaimed’ veterans were laid to rest at Pikes Peak National Cemetery as part of an effort to remember the almost forgotten

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A veteran salutes the "unclaimed" remains of Army Sgt. Robert and Naval Seaman Joseph Gibbs on March 27, 2024.

The ashes of two unclaimed veterans were laid to rest during a public funeral at Pikes Peak National Cemetery Wednesday.

EWSN Joseph Gibbs and Army Sgt. Robert Hunt served in the Vietnam War Era in the '60s and '70s, respectively, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Unclaimed veterans are service members who die but are not claimed by friends, family, or a legal representative. Hunt and Gibbs were probably local and likely died recently, though the exact dates of their deaths were not given.

“Give us comfort, Lord as we grieve for them whose lives ended with no recognition,” said volunteer cemetery chaplain Mary Koepp. “I will be referring to our soldiers as Bob and Joe because they don't have any family here to think of them that way.” 

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Marine veterans stand at attention during the service at Pikes Peak National Cemetery on March 27, 2024.

The service was given through a program called Missing In America. Started in 2007, the group tracks down the unclaimed remains of service members and makes sure they’re buried with full military honors.  

Missing in America has buried about 6,000 people this way, nationwide.

“For years, even decades, some have waited,” Koepp said. “They've been cremated, forgotten, silently occupying the shelves of mortuaries, state hospitals, and funeral homes across the United States.”

She said some of the oldest remains found date back to the 1880s.

A one thousand pound brass bell tolled to finish the service, on it is written: “This honor bell is dedicated to those who have served and sacrificed.” It was provided by Honor Bell, a Metro Denver-based volunteer organization that serves at military funerals in the region.

Dan Boyce/CPR News
This thousand-pound "Honor Bell" has been driven to military services in Colorado since 2016. It tolls seven times at each service, marking each stage of a servicemember's life, on March 27, 2024.

Air Force veteran Mark Manwell timed out the seven strikes of the bell, one for each of what the organization considers the stages of a service member's life.

Manwell joined Honor Bell two and a half years ago.

“It's actually amazing. The crowd that showed up today through doing so many services. Each one is unique,” Manwell said. “Some of the services may have hundreds of attendees, where others might only have one family member, that may have been a daughter. And that's the only person that shows up.”

“Each one has its own personal heart feeling,” he said. “It's hard to describe.”

This one was hard to describe as well, as dozens of people — veterans in leather biker vests next to men in full military uniform — stood by to remember the lives of men they never knew.

“Joe and Bob are part of our family now,” Koepp said.