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You Will Not Go Alone

It was October of 2023, and a crew had been dispatched to a home by the title-owning bank to clear it out and get it ready for sale. The house’s owner had passed away, and the property had returned to the bank.

As the crew toiled through the home, they eventually entered the back of a closet, empty except for one small thing. Deep inside the closet sat a cardboard box. The address labels showed it had been mailed from Oregon to a Dade City, Florida address. Tasked with determining what was trash or treasure, the crew carefully opened the box.

Peering in, the crew observed the Navy seal upon a cherry wood urn inscribed with a name, date of birth, and date of death. Clearly, these were the ashes of an American hero, left alone in the back of this closet.

The crew carefully collected the box and brought it to Kathy Vaughn, Auxiliary President for VFW Post 4412 in Hudson, Florida, with an understanding that she would know what to do with the veteran’s remains.

Dale Cloutier, Commander of VFW Post 4412, recalls Kathy approaching him in his office, cradling an old cardboard box. She explained the situation to the Commander, who immediately went into action.

At that moment, the only information the pair had was that a home where someone had died was being cleared out, and these ashes had been found; other than that, the postage marks and urn engravings were the only clues.

With the name John J. Cornin and the dates of birth and death, Dale and members of his Auxiliary began researching to find any living relatives of the veteran through standard avenues like

The team was able to determine that Mr. Cornin had passed away in Oregon, had been cremated, and his ashes had been shipped to his son, who had lived in Dade City, Florida, where the son, now deceased, had placed the unopened box in the closet. They also confirmed there were no other living relatives for Mr. Cornin.

With no living relatives to hand Mr. Cronin’s ashes to, it was up to Commander Cloutier and members of VFW Post 4412 to ensure Mr. Cronin would not be left alone.

Dale began the process of coordinating a proper burial for Mr. Cronin. He started by filling out a form from the National Archives to acquire as much information as possible through military records.

The records showed that Mr. Cronin had served in the 70’s. With that information, Dale was able to contact the National Cemetery burial scheduling department located in St. Louis, Missouri, a centralized location that schedules all burials in National Cemeteries. Within 15 minutes of that call, the department was able to schedule a burial for Mr. Cornin at the National Cemetery in Bushnell, Florida.

VFW Post 4412, in the absence of any living relatives, had custody of Mr. Cornin’s ashes, and Commander Cloutier wasn’t willing to hand them over to someone. As custodian, VFW Post 4412 agreed to conduct the burial ceremony.

The schedule was set to perform burial services for Mr. Cornin on January 4, 2024, at 1100 hours. With little to no effort, Dale was able to engage The Riders of VFW Post 4412 along with other post members to accompany Mr. Cornin from the Hudson Post to Bushnell National Cemetery.

The “Escort Ride” began with everyone meeting at the post at 8:15 am with kickstands up at 8:30 am.

“Most of us went up on bikes. There were some cars in the escort also. Our VFW State Chaplain, Wayne Tuttle, met us up there, and we had the color guard from VFW Post 10209 meet us at Bushnell as well.

“We all came together and had the service for Mr. Cornin with full military honors. No veteran should ever be unattended, ever,” says Commander Cloutier.

Cloutier shares that the National Cemetery at Bushnell has unaccompanied services every other month.

“The number of veterans who die alone in nursing homes with no family is astounding. Unattended services are held, I believe, on the last Thursday of every other month, and people show up from VFWs to be present at the unattended services because that is what the VFW believes: no veteran should be unattended.”

For Auxiliary President Kathy Vaughn, this bi-monthly event holds a permanent place on her calendar. Kathy tries to ensure that Post 4412 has somebody up there, at Bushnell, for all its unattended services.

In planning for the burial of Mr. Cornin, Cloutier requested an above-ground niche to place Cornin’s ashes. He adds, “I ordered the stone that will be placed on Mr. Cornin’s niche. It includes his name and branch of service, the Navy, and I added the words, ‘loving father and husband.’”

Written By: Toni Hedstrom


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