|Urn containing Pvt. Stucker's cremains (Courtesy of Bob Patrick)|
On June 28, 1914, Zachariah M. Stucker died of heart failure at a veterans’ home near Port Orchard, Wash. The body of the 69-year-old former Union soldier was removed from his bed and sent to Seattle for cremation.
But family never came to accept his remains. Pvt. Stucker, who served throughout the Civil War with Company A, 48th Illinois Infantry, and saw at least 15 battles, had no wife or children. His unclaimed remains languished for more than a century at a funeral home and then a cemetery in Seattle.
On Thursday (Sept. 28), the rediscovered soldier finally will receive full honors during his interment at a cemetery near the state facility where he spent his last years.
“I think it will be respectful and dignified,” local historian James Dimond said of the ceremony. “He is going to be buried with his fellow veterans.”
Dimond, a member of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, assisted Bob Patrick and others with the Missing in America Project – a national group that arranges for proper burial of unclaimed cremated remains of veterans – on research about Stucker, who was only 16 when he enlisted in southern Illinois.
In recent years, the MIA Project and local groups have worked together to bring about such burials with honors. Often, the deceased had no family or their descendants lost track of the remains or did not pay for burial or temporary storage.
“They just got lost in the tides of history,” Dimond said.
From battlefield to farms, gold mines
Stucker enlisted on Sept. 1, 1861, in New Liberty, Ill. The blue-eyed Pope County farm boy was listed as 5 feet 4 and 1/2 inches tall. He served as a musician, at least initially.
|Vicksburg monument (NPS photo)|
Because there are no surviving biographies or diaries, nothing is known about Stucker’s specific service. But he served honorably and, as was the case with musicians, Stucker likely served as a stretcher bearer for wounded comrades. He mustered out a couple months after the war’s end in 1865.
According to a Findagrave profile written by Peter Braun, the MIA Project volunteer who found Stucker’s name on a list of unclaimed remains, Stucker farmed in Indiana and eventually made his way west, working as a gold miner, laborer and teamster in Oregon and Washington.
Stucker, a member of the Bremerton, Wash., chapter of the Grand Army of the Republic, applied in 1910 to live at the Washington Veterans Home built on a Puget Sound inlet in Retsil (near Port Orchard). The infirm and indigent veteran died there four years later, living on a pension of $19 per month.
The profile continues: “Unfortunately, for reasons still unknown, his cremains were not returned home in a ‘timely manner’ … sitting on the shelf in community storage at Lake View Cemetery in Seattle for 103 years.”
On the shelf, rarely claimed
In 2015, Patrick gave a talk to funeral home and cemetery operators about the MIA Project. He received a list from the nonprofit Lake View Cemetery of 1,100 remains (funeral homes for years had sent unclaimed cremains to the cemetery).
Dimond and his wife, Loretta, were involved about that time in another case of a Civil War veteran awaiting burial. In a 2016 Seattle Times article, George Nemeth, manager of Lake View, said about 1,700 remains were stored in empty crypts. “It happens periodically that people who come claim them,” Nemeth said.
From the list provided by Lake View, Patrick and Braun determined about 85 veterans of all wars and spouses were eligible for interment at a national cemetery. They obtained death certificates and sent letters to presumed descendants.
|Urns used by Missing in America Project (Courtesy of Bob Patrick)|
That list was advertised so that any descendants could accept the remains or allow them to be interred in the area’s national cemetery.
“I mail a lot of letters to dead people because it has been so long,” said Patrick. The volunteer said that of 400 MIA Project-involved burials in the state, only two funerals drew relatives.
Patrick served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1964-1968 and has been a rider with the Patriot Guards. The retiree said doing research on these kinds of cases “is emotionally hard because I get to know the person.”
Such an effort brings up circumstances of an individual’s life and death. Despite his cremains being in limbo for more than a century, Stucker had a “fairly clean passing” – as opposed to those who are homeless or have “horrible family acrimony,” Patrick told the Picket.
After the Department of Veterans Affairs said it could not verify all of Stucker’s records to make him eligible for such a burial (Dimond and Patrick say they have numerous supporting documents), the state agreed to bury him at the cemetery in Retsil.
To this day, volunteers and officials have not heard from any living descendants of Stucker.
'Going to do right by him'
While there have been other stories about unclaimed remains of a veteran finally being placed in eternal rest, the story of Stucker is drawing headlines because he served and died so long ago.
|James Dimond holds Stucker's remains (Bob Patrick)|
In a press release, the Washington state Department of Veterans Affairs said Stucker “will be returned home” for final military honors and interment at its cemetery.
The Picket reached out the veterans’ home on Wednesday but did not receive a reply.
Veteran benefit specialist Cindy Muyskens told the Kitsap Sun the facility didn’t hesitate to bury Stucker after Patrick contacted officials.
The only record the home had was a card with Stucker’s name, age and branch of service.
“(The funeral home) had no family to contact, so after they cremated him they stuck him on the shelf,” she told the newspaper. “It is strange for me to fathom that he just sat there for 100 years without anyone picking him up and saying, ‘What do we do with this?’
“We’re going to do right by him, finally,” Muyskens said.
Somber moments and tears
Thursday afternoon’s interment, in a cemetery south of the veterans' home, will finally bestow the type of honors on Stucker that he likely would have received in 1914.
|Part of program for Thursday includes emblem of GAR medal|
Typically, members of the Grand Army of the Republic, a large fraternal organization of Federal veterans, would serve as pallbearers carrying remains from a service to the cemetery. G.A.R. rituals will be followed at the Stucker interment.
The ceremony will include speeches and music from the 133rd Army National Guard Band (including “Battle Hymn of the Republic”). Members of the 4th US Civil War Reenactors will fire a salute, followed by echo taps. An upright stone will be place on Stucker’s grave at a later date.
For Patrick and Dimond, the burial will close the latest chapter in their bids to bring dignity and closure to veterans who served their country.