JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — For many, the Mountain Home National Cemetery in Johnson City is sacred ground.
The veteran’s cemetery is the final resting place for more than 17,000 veterans where their family, friends and descendants can remember and mourn.
But some of the veterans buried there died with no one to mourn them.
“They had nobody when they passed away,” said Sue Nan Jehlen, director of the Mountain Home National Cemetery. “Just the staff that worked with them.”
Honorably discharged veterans are entitled to a burial at a national cemetery, even if there’s no one to claim their remains.
Sue Nan Jehlen says when she was named cemetery director earlier this year, ceremonies were being held for what the VA calls “unclaimed veterans” one person at a time. Sometimes, people who heard about the service would come to mourn a veteran they never met, she said. But sometimes that didn’t happen.
“We were having a service for each individual veteran which they deserve, but I wanted more community involvement,” Jehlen said.
So she created a new plan with quarterly services to honor unclaimed veterans with more involvement from people in the community.
On Oct. 19, the first quarterly unclaimed veteran ceremony was held for Army veteran SSG. J.B. Perry, an Army Veteran who served in the Persian Gulf, and Navy Veteran CTASN Clifford Waller at the Mountain Home cemetery.
VA employees and veteran advocates in the community attended the service, which involved representatives of Veterans Service Organizations.
“I appreciate the employees coming over from the VA and the veterans supporting this,” Jehlen said. “It’s so important.”
Quarterly services to honor veterans who died without friends or family to mourn are planned for 2023. The next will be held on Jan. 18 at 3 p.m.