Ashes found in trash lead to proper burial

Discussion in 'WWII' started by KilroyCD, Jan 13, 2010.

  1. KilroyCD

    KilroyCD One Too Many

    Lancaster County, PA
    Ashes Found in Trash Led to Proper Burial
    January 05, 2010
    St. Petersburg Times

    The two teenagers got to the cemetery first. He wore his dark green dress uniform from the National Guard. She wore a long black dress. They stood on the edge of the road, across from rows of matching military headstones, waiting for the funeral of the man they had never met.

    Mike Colt, 19, and his girlfriend, Carol Sturgell, 18, had driven more than an hour from their Tampa homes last month to be at Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell.

    They weren't really sure why they had come. They just knew they had to be here.
    "It's kind of sad, huh?" asked Sturgell, scanning the sea of white gravestones.

    Colt nodded. "Yeah, but it feels kind of important."

    At 12:20 p.m., a Tampa police car pulled up, then a white Lincoln Town Car. Another police cruiser followed. Two officers stepped out.

    "Thank you for being here," Colt said, shaking both of their hands.

    "No, thank you," said Officer Dan College . "If it weren't for you guys, none of us would be here."

    More than a month ago , on the last Saturday of November, the young couple was hanging out at Sturgell's house when her brother rode up on his bike, all excited. He had found two fishing poles in this huge pile of trash. Come check it out, he said. So they did.

    At the edge of the trash mound, sticking out from beneath a box, Sturgell spied a worn green folder.

    She pulled it out, brushed off the dust. Across the top, bold letters said, "Department of Defense." Inside, she found retirement papers from the U.S. Army; a citation for a Purple Heart issued in 1945; and a certificate for a Bronze Star medal "for heroism in ground combat in the vicinity of Normandy, France ... June 1944." In the center of the certificate there was a name: Delbert E. Hahn.

    Why would anyone throw that away? Sturgell asked.

    And who is that guy? Colt wanted to know. Must be old, a World War II vet. Looks like he served at D-Day!

    That night, they took the paperwork back to Sturgell's house and searched Delbert E. Hahn on the computer. Nothing. They talked about who he might have been, the life he might have led.

    The next morning, they went back to the trash heap and searched for more clues. They rummaged through boxes, overturned furniture, picked through piles of the past. Colt moved a ratty couch - and something fell out. A metal vase, or box, some kind of rectangular container about a foot tall. On the base was the name: Delbert E. Hahn.

    "It's him," Colt told his girlfriend. "This must be him, in his urn."

    Sturgell screamed. She didn't want to touch it. It was kind of freaky, she said, discovering the remains of some dead guy.

    "He shouldn't be here," Colt said. "No one should be thrown away like that, just left in a parking lot."

    The dead man wasn't alone. Under the couch, the couple found two more sets of remains: a cylinder-style container with Barbara Hahn printed on the bottom and another urn, which had no name.

    Tampa police Cpl. Edward Croissant had just reported for the night shift that Sunday when his officers showed him the urns. This kid and his girlfriend had found them and brought them to the station.

    Then an officer told Croissant about the Purple Heart. The Bronze Star. And the Normandy invasion.

    And Croissant became irate. He had served eight years in the Navy. He's in the Coast Guard Reserve. "I had three uncles in World War II. That was the greatest generation. If it wasn't for those men, we would have nothing," he said. "That man saw combat. And someone just dumped him there? He deserves a better ending."

    Police called the Department of Veterans Affairs and learned Hahn had died in 1983, at the age of 62, -and was a highly decorated war hero. The staff sergeant had served in the infantry and been honored with five Bronze Stars and two Purple Hearts.

    Barbara Hahn, they learned, was the soldier's wife.

    So how did their remains end up in that mound of garbage? Where was the rest of their family, or friends, anyone who would want their ashes? And who was in that third urn?

    Neighbors filled in some of the story: Barbara Hahn had been a widow forever, they told police. For years, her mother had lived with her. Her mother's name was Barbara, too.

    The elder Barbara had lived to be more than 100. They thought she died around 2000. That third urn, neighbors told police, must be her.

    The younger Barbara, the soldier's wife, got sick in 2003. A couple came to care for her, and she wound up willing them her mobile home. When she died, the couple moved in, took out a mortgage, then didn't make payments.

    The bank foreclosed on the trailer late last year.

    In November, officials sent a maintenance company to clear it out. The workers must have just dumped everything behind the vacant building on Busch Boulevard , neighbors told police. Including the remains of three people.

    Just before 1 p.m. Dec. 16 , the two teenagers led the car line through Florida National Cemetery . Police followed, then the funeral director who had the urns.

    Outside a wooden gazebo, two rows of National Guardsmen stood at attention.

    The funeral director handed the first soldier a flag, the next one the cylinder with Barbara Hahn's remains, the third one the brass urn with Delbert Hahn.
    (Barbara's mother's remains are still in the evidence room of the police station. Since she wasn't a veteran or married to one, she wasn't entitled to be buried in the military cemetery.)

    "Let us open the gates of the Lord," said a military chaplain, who led the procession of strangers into the gazebo. "Let us remember," said the chaplain, "none of us lives only unto himself."

    The teenagers sat on the front bench. Three officials from Veterans Affairs sat behind them. They had spent weeks searching for the Hahns' relatives, any distant kin or friend, someone who might want their ashes - or at least want to come to their burial.

    They couldn't find anyone. Even the couple whom Barbara Hahn had willed her home to didn't show.

    By the time the chaplain lifted his head from the Lord's Prayer, a long line of men had wrapped around the gazebo.

    Wearing blue denim shirts and work boots, they clasped their caps in their hands and bowed their heads. Dozens of groundskeepers from the cemetery had left their Christmas party to come pay respects to the man who, in death, had been so disrespected.

    A bugler played taps. The riflemen fired three shots. And 56 people watched the honor guard fold a flag over the urns of the man and woman they never knew.
  2. Dudleydoright

    Dudleydoright A-List Customer

    WOW ................ and who says youngsters don't care ? At least some of them do.

    RiP old fella.

  3. Marv

    Marv A-List Customer

    Quite a moving yet honourable story, both for the teenagers that found him (them) and for the vet who finally was buried with the military honours he so well and rightly deserved. :eusa_clap
  4. T Smith

    T Smith Familiar Face

    Wow, incredible story!
  5. vintage_jayhawk

    vintage_jayhawk One of the Regulars

    Expat in the Caribbean
    How great of those kids to make sure our heroes are honored.
  6. .

    There have been cases of (occupied) cremation urns ending up in thrift stores.

  7. Miss Dizzy Dame

    Miss Dizzy Dame Familiar Face

  8. airgrabber666

    airgrabber666 One of the Regulars

    Bridgeton, NJ
    Great story! Fascinating.
  9. Miss Neecerie

    Miss Neecerie I'll Lock Up

    The land of Sinatra, Hoboken
    Thank you for posting this...was very nice to hear that they went the extra mile to make sure things were resolved so nicely.

    ps....after spending 5 min googling to find the actual story so that i could send the link to friends....maybe next time you could include that at the bottom or something? :D
  10. Miss 1929

    Miss 1929 My Mail is Forwarded Here

    Oakland, California
    Lovely kids!

    Dumpster diving is a good thing!

    I will be clearing an estate for my mom (she's a lawyer) next week - the deceased has no friends, one estranged brother, and had not set foot in her apartment for 8 years. She kept thinking she would move back to the Bay Area, so kept paying rent on the apartment and "all my good stuff is there", so she wanted it kept for her return. Which is really sad that she didn't enjoy her stuff now.

    Apparently her mother was a dentist in the 1880s in Alaska, and all the mother's stuff is there in boxes too, so who knows what we'll find.

    Probably some ashes...
  11. KilroyCD

    KilroyCD One Too Many

    Lancaster County, PA
    Sorry about that Miss Neecerie, but unfortunately I didn't have the link. The story was sent to me in an e-mail (which I cut and pasted here). That e-mail didn't have the link, and I didn't think to search for it.
  12. Doublegun

    Doublegun Practically Family

    Thank you for sharing the story. Nice to read something positive about a couple of kids today who did the right thing for the right reasons.
  13. Especially touching for me, since today my father, also a WWII Army Infantry combat veteran, was buried in a National Cemetary. Never forget our veterans...
  14. kampkatz

    kampkatz Practically Family

    Central Pennsylvania
    That story should become required reading for high school civics classes.
  15. T Smith

    T Smith Familiar Face

    My sincerest condolences.
  16. Lenore

    Lenore Practically Family

    Houston, Texas
    You have my sympathies, Widebrim.
  17. Carlisle Blues

    Carlisle Blues My Mail is Forwarded Here

    Beautiful Horse Country
    Condolences my friend.
  18. Erik

    Erik One of the Regulars

    The Rockies
    A tragic wrong, righted.
  19. Thank you very much TSmith, Lenore, and Carlisle Blues (Chris) for your condolences.
  20. Doublegun

    Doublegun Practically Family

    I posted this story on another board and it went viral. One of the readers wrote the author and this was her reply:

    Dear Mr. Smith,

    Thank you, so very much, for your kind message, and for reading my story. It was my honor to get to share the tale of Mr. Hahn and the teenagers who made sure he got a proper burial.

    As a follow-up, you might be interested in knowing that Mike Colt, the boy who found the urn, shipped out to Fort Hood, TX then onto Iraq or Afghanistan as part of Florida's recent National Guard deployment. I was there as he kissed his sweet girlfriend good-bye for at least 18 months.

    Thank you again for your kind words and interest in the story. It has always been my greatest pleasure to write about the "little people" that make our world so wonderful and diverse.

    -- Lane DeGregory (
    Staff Writer
    St. Petersburg Times
    727-893-8825 Here is the response he received:

    God speed to Mr. Colt. A hero in the eyes of many before ever touching down on hostile soil.


Share This Page

  1. This site uses cookies to help personalise content, tailor your experience and to keep you logged in if you register.
    By continuing to use this site, you are consenting to our use of cookies.