High School Students Make Urns For Ashes Of Unclaimed Veterans

High School Students Make Urns For Ashes Of Unclaimed Veterans

The students from New Mexico made 18 handcrafted wooden urns adorned with the symbols of all the branches of the military.

A high school shop class in New Mexico is doing something great as part of their curriculum. The students are making sure the cremated remains of homeless and indigent veterans are interred with class. According to CNN, Gino Perez's wood and metal shop class at Valley High School in Albuquerque, New Mexico, made 18 handcrafted wooden urns adorned with the symbols of all the branches of the military.

Out of them, nine of them will be used to hold the remains of US military veterans. "I wanted to make it real clear the status of these Americans -- they're mostly homeless and they were also veterans with full military honors and nobody claimed their bodies," said Perez.



There are reportedly 40,000 homeless veterans in America, according to the latest estimate by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. When an honorably discharged, homeless or indigent veteran dies in New Mexico, the Forgotten Heroes Burial Program provides a full military funeral at Santa Fe National Cemetery if they have no family or friends to claim the remains.

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The same happens if they have no money to provide for their funeral services, according to the New Mexico Department of Veterans' Services. The services were launched in 2011.

"We will do a full-on military funeral with Taps, a three-volley salute, the governor gives a eulogy and we invite the public to be a part," said Ray Seva, a spokesman for the New Mexico Department of Veterans' Services. "The public and the other veterans there, they become like the family."

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"We provide the final salute that they deserve," Seva said. Larry Gallegos, a spokesman for Bernalillo County, said that the veterans' remains have historically been placed in black cardboard boxes. "They were elegant and nice but he (Perez) said they deserve more than a cardboard box," Gallegos said.  "It's a lot more dignified, in my opinion, to be encased in wood," Perez said.

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Perez, who is a Navy veteran himself, has been a teacher for four years. He says he was looking for a way to get his students involved in the community while learning about metal and woodworking.

"I've never seen a group of students engage in a project like this. Even students that were down on the military for whatever reason -- they've all got their politics -- would say we're doing a good thing," Perez said.

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Perez conducts three shop classes, consisting of about 30 students in total, and most of them are freshmen. Perez said they each completed the boxes in just the first few weeks of school. "It was one of the neatest things I've ever seen," said Perez.

"The speed which they did these projects is amazing. We set it up kind of like an assembly line -- a project-based learning idea. Some accused me of sneaking in to work on the urns at night, but I assure you the kids did it all."

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"All I did was keep them off their phones and keep them safe working with the equipment," he added. These students' hard work will be recognized Sept. 20 at an assembly that will include New Mexico Department of Veterans' Services Secretary Jack Fox, Bernalillo County Commissioner Debbie O'Malley and Joshua McManigal of Daniels Family Funeral Services, who all partner in the Forgotten Heroes Burial Program.

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"It is amazing what these kids did," Perez said. "Most of the students are freshmen. They never had experience working with these tools. To be honest I was blown away. The gravity will set in when they have their assembly," he said.

Seva added that this year's burial for The Forgotten Heroes will take place on October 4. There will be a ceremony in Albuquerque where the remains will be put in a hearse and turned over from Bernalillo County to the state Department of Veterans' Services, Gallegos said. 



Then, they will travel 55 miles to Santa Fe escorted by police cars, fire engines, and also accompanied by about 100 motorcycle-riding veterans who are members of the American Legion Riders.

"They served our country and they should be given the respectful burial that they deserve," Gallegos said. Honestly, if you want to teach your students humility and respect, then this is the way!


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