Remains of 7 Montana Veterans to be Buried

By Beacon Staff

BILLINGS – After sitting unclaimed for years in funeral homes in Billings, Kalispell and Whitefish, the cremated remains of seven military veterans from Montana will be buried this week.

Missing in America Project volunteers in the state recently identified the remains after visiting funeral homes, taking inventory of unclaimed remains and authenticating death certificates with U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs records.

The veterans are Jon William Ball of Kalispell; James Brodniak of Kalispell; Orville Clinton Hatch of Billings; Anthony Mills of Billings; Michael Lynn Shannon of Whitefish; Charles Shelton of Kalispell; and Charles Rollin Spears of Kalispell.

Hatch’s remains had sat unclaimed and mostly forgotten on a shelf in a basement storage area at Dahl Funeral Chapel in Billings since October 1994, marked as “Cremation No. 4037.” For six years, the ashes of Mills, a former Marine, have sat next to those of Hatch.

“These men served their country and sacrificed their lives,” Marty Malone, Montana state coordinator for the Missing in America Project, said. “To have them sitting on a shelf in a box is tantamount to a crime.”

On Friday morning, motorcycle processions from Billings and Kalispell will meet and escort their remains for burial at Fort Harrison, west of Helena. Riders from Kalispell, Livingston, Bozeman, Belgrade, Missoula and Butte will join into one procession.

The seven veterans will be interred with full military honors at 2:30 p.m. at the Montana State Veterans Cemetery at Fort Harrison. The Montana American Legion and Disabled American Veterans have contributed $880 to ensure that each of the seven men receives a burial vault and headstone.

John Dahl, owner of Dahl Funeral Chapel, praised the Missing in America Project, saying it gives funeral directors another option when repeated attempts to locate family and friends of a deceased veteran fail.

“You can’t put the fault on the family,” Dahl said. “They’ve obviously signed a cremation authorization and the intent is there to do some type of interment, but they have not been able to follow through for whatever reason.”

He and his staff have worked closely with the group, giving members the access they need to crematory records to identify veteran remains.

This is the group’s second interment. The first was in 2009 when project members buried the remains of two veterans after discovering them in a Ronan funeral home.

To date, Missing in America Project leaders nationally have visited 2,782 funeral homes and have found 16,100 cremains, 3,500 of them in one institution. Some 2,044 of the veterans’ cremains have been identified and 1,854 of them have been interred.