Military burial planned in Knox County for four unclaimed veterans

Yesterday 2:51 p.m.
 By Kristi L. Nelson of the Knoxville News Sentinel

By the time they died, for whatever reason, there was no one to claim them.

But fellow veterans and community members will make sure they’re remembered for their service to this country.

A memorial service June 6 at the East Tennessee Veterans Cemetery on Gov. John Sevier Highway will honor the lives of four veterans who died this year.

It’s the sixth year Berry Funeral Home has had such a ceremony, said general manager Jeff Berry, part of a national program of the funeral home’s parent company, Dignity Memorial.

Berry said nationally, Dignity has sponsored more than 2,000 services. In Knox County alone, at least 36 veterans have been honored in this way, he said.

Berry said the funeral home works closely with the Regional Forensic Center to identify those whose bodies were unclaimed but who might be eligible for burial in the Veterans’ Cemetery, because of honorable discharge from military service. They’re cremated and the cremains stored in urns until interment at the joint ceremony.

Berry helps coordinate with local veterans groups to organize a funeral with full military honors, including the handling of the flag, color guard and firing party. The June 6 service, at 1:30 p.m., will include Army, Navy and Air Force veterans; representatives from Army and Navy reserves in Knox County and Air Force reserves in Nashville will assist, Berry said.

“If we did not step in, they’d probably never have that military funeral, that gravesite with their name on the marker, which they deserve,” Berry said.

Those being honored June 6 are:

Sgt. Deborah Elaine McCallie Atkins Smith Easler. Born April 17, 1958, in Bexar County, Texas, to Joseph Tate McCallie of Monroe County and Cecile N. Myers McCallie of Loudon County, she grew up in Loudon and served in the Air Force from April 15, 1986, to July 31, 1992. She died Feb. 7, 2016, in Knoxville.

Spec. 4th Class Leonard David Fairchild Jr. Born Feb. 18, 1945, in Lenoir, N.C., he served in the Army from Nov. 9, 1966 to Sept. 16, 1968, completing service school at Fort Campbell, Ky., and two years of college. He was awarded the National Defense Service Medal and Sharpshooter Badge for Rifle (M-14). He died Feb. 11, 2016.

Seaman Recruit Michael Lee McRill. Born April 14, 1960, he was a 1977 graduate of Mattoon Senior High School in Mattoon, Ill. He served in the Navy Feb. 28-June 29, 1979, and was stationed at Great Lakes, Ill. He died Jan. 26, 2016, in Knoxville.

Pvt. Calvin Coolidge Cherry Jr. Born March 24, 1951, the Oak Ridge native served in the Army Nov. 1, 1976, to April 1, 1977. He was awarded the Marksman Badge for Rifle (M-16). He died April 16, 2016.

Berry said veterans often travel great distances to pay their respects at the ceremonies, occasionally even from other states.

“The last thing we can do is make sure they’re not forgotten,” he said. “Sometimes, I walk by these markers and read the names … and think, ‘Yeah, we got the person the honors they deserve.'”

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