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Citizens remember vets in Laurel on Memorial Day

Department of Defense identifies missing vets
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Posted at 10:46 PM, May 27, 2024

Family and friends came out to the Yellowstone National Cemetery in Laurel on Memorial Day.

And there are some efforts to help identify remains and further help some of the families and honor more veterans.  

Veterans offered a toast in honor of men who served with them in the 592nd Ordinance Company.

“These guys started the tradition, my friends here,” said Robert Conklin, U.S. Army veteran. “Other soldiers in the unit started a tradition last year coming out here to honor our most recent fallen, Aaron Keever.”

Keever, an Army corporal, served in the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan, and Iraq.

One woman and her friends remembered and honored their former co-worker, U.S. Army Captain Damian S. Johnson.

"Friends that are gone are never forgotten and places like this are just, a nice place to come,” said Pam Sherrod. “Remember. Reminisce.”

The cemetery invited Dr. Renee Zielinski to be the keynote speaker.

Zielinski is a forensic anthropologist and scientific recovery expert for the Defense POW-MIA Accounting Agency. She uses DNA, dental records, and anthropological identification on unknown remains.

“It is World War II, the Korean War, the Cold War, the Vietnam War, and current-day conflicts,” Zielinski said.

She spoke about two Montanans, who were identified as U.S. Army Corporal Franklin H. Bennett, 20 of Glendive and U.S. Army Private Wayne M. Evans, 21 of Hamilton.

“They found themselves both on the Bataan Death March and they both unfortunately perished in the Cabanatuan POW camp,” Zielinski said.

U.S. Army veteran James Mariska, who is part of theFriends of the Yellowstone National Cemetery, said this is the first time someone with Zielinski's expertise has spoken at the cemetery in its 10-year history.

Mariska knows what identifying remains means to family, friends, and those serving in the military.

“Missed Christmases and birthdays and anniversaries and graduations and everything else,” Mariska said about lost veterans. “They paid the ultimate sacrifice. And it's even worse when nobody knows who you are or where you are.”

The federal agency and its predecessor have been able to identify the remains of 3,300 individuals and estimates 81,000 are missing with about half of those recoverable, according to Zielinski.