NATIONAL NEWS

No one claimed veteran’s remains, so St. Louis hospital arranged for military funeral

May 27, 2022, 5:35 PM | Updated: Jun 8, 2022, 3:14 pm

FILE: NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MAY 25: An American flag framMarines and Navy sailors from the USS Bataa...

FILE: NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MAY 25: An American flag framMarines and Navy sailors from the USS Bataan stands on the flight deck during their arrival for Fleet Week 2022 as seen from the Intrepid Museum on May 25, 2022 in New York City. Fleet Week returned this year in full capacity with over 3,000 sailors partaking across multiple vessels entering New York City’s ports, according to reports. This is the first year since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic that Fleet Week has returned. (Photo by Alexi J. Rosenfeld/Getty Images)

(Photo by Alexi J. Rosenfeld/Getty Images)

ST. LOUIS, Missouri (St. Louis Post-Dispatch) — “He didn’t have any family,” Chandra White told the group before they left a hospital parking lot in a funeral procession to Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery.

“But now, he does.”

A U.S. veteran, who died alone in August at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, was buried on Thursday with the full military honors he deserved, something hospital staff worked to ensure.

White leads the hospital’s Office of Decedent Affairs, the only decedent affairs program in Missouri with a team dedicated solely to helping families through the next steps after their loved one dies at the hospital, she said. It’s one of about 10 in the country.

The veteran died at the hospital in August without anyone to claim his body, White said. Her office completed an exhaustive search for next of kin but was unable to locate anyone.

Since the decedent office’s creation in 2018 at BJC HealthCare’s Barnes-Jewish Hospital, the bodies of about 30 patients have been unclaimed.

“We are able to go forward and give them a dignified cremation,” White said. The cremains are kept at the hospital in case any relatives someday surface to claim them.

As part of their search for relatives, the decedent office staff also checks military records.

“If we can determine that they are a veteran, then we are able to give them a dignified farewell with the honors they deserve,” White said. One other unclaimed individual in 2018 was also able to receive a military funeral at Jefferson Barracks.

The veteran interred Thursday served three years in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War era with an honorable discharge, hospital officials said.

The decedent office organized a procession for his cremated remains from a hospital parking lot to Jefferson Barracks. About 30 BJC HealthCare employees who are service members or veterans formed a “line of honor” to salute the procession as it left.

David Rogers, project manager for BJC HealthCare who serves in the U.S. Air Force Reserves, said the group wanted to show that although the veteran died without family members or friends, his legacy will not be forgotten.

“In the military we always look out for each other. … That doesn’t end when someone’s watch is over,” Rogers said.

With Memorial Day a few days away, the salute was also an opportunity to remember the sacrifices of those who have served country, he said: “To honor them, by 1, our presence; and 2, by the way that we carry forward their legacy of service.”

The Barnes-Jewish team invited the Patriot Guard Riders, a volunteer organization that works to ensure respect at memorial services for soldiers, first responders and veterans.

About 30 guard riders with American flags waving from motorcycles and cars led the procession to the cemetery, where they each stood with flags surrounding the funeral service.

“This is what we do,” said rider Neil Hill, 67, of the St. Peters. “Our main goal is to make sure no veteran goes to his final resting place alone.”

The media was also invited to the parking lot before the procession left to learn about the hospital’s decedent program. While hospital officials wanted to tout the program, they did not provide the veteran’s name and initially tried to bar media from attending the funeral, citing patient privacy laws.

“We wanted to share but were advised by our legal team it would be a HIPAA violation. Since their name will be said at the funeral, we were advised to not have media there,” said Laura High, media relations manager for BJC HealthCare, in an email.

HIPAA is the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which was passed by Congress in 1996. The law establishes standards to protect individuals’ medical records and other identifiable health information and applies to health plans, health care clearinghouses and health care providers.

Although the hospital declined to identify the veteran, his name, Robert Lawrence Openlander, is on the Jefferson Barracks burial schedule. The Patriot Guard Riders also listed his name on their mission calendar.

The Veteran Legacy Memorial website lists Openlander’s date of birth as Dec. 7, 1942, the first anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, making him 78 when he died last year.

A public records search provides small glimpses into his life. A U.S. Navy publication from 1970 shows he served on the USS Robert E. Byrd, a destroyer.

A marriage record from 1981 shows at the age of 39, he married a Lois Kimball, age 27, of De Soto. His residence then was listed as Jennings.

The 1950 U.S. census shows him as a 7-year-old living with parents Lawrence and Fern Openlander in the 5600 block of Chippewa in the Southhampton neighborhood.

Robert Openlander is the only child listed in Fern Openlander’s obituary, which was published in 1973.

The Rev. Suzanne Anderson-Hurdle, chaplain for Barnes-Jewish Hospital, gave Openlander’s eulogy under a shelter at Jefferson Barracks. The Patriot Guard’s flags flapped in a strong breeze as clouds rolled in.

“Though we may not know a lot about this man, we know he served. We know that he was loved,” Anderson-Hurdle said, “hopefully by parents who helped support him as he grew up, giving him a foundation on which to build his life. We hope he knew love of a partner or a spouse, children or nieces or nephews, extended family and chosen friends.”

A rifle party fired a three-volley salute. A bugler played taps. Two Navy sailors in white uniforms quietly and carefully folded an American flag. One kneeled to place the flag in White’s lap.

The flag will be kept in a case at the hospital, White said, waiting for family — if they ever come.

 

The-CNN-Wire
™ & © 2022 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.

KSL 5 TV Live

National News

FILE  -A Ford Bronco is displayed at a Gus Machado Ford dealership on Jan. 23, 2023, in Hialeah, Fl...

Wyatt Grantham-Phillips

Ford recalls over 456,000 Bronco Sport and Maverick cars due to loss of drive power risk

Ford is recalling more than 456,000 Bronco Sport and Maverick vehicles due to a battery detection issue that can result in loss of drive power, increasing crash risks.

2 hours ago

Melatonin use can be especially dangerous in children and should only be used after consulting a pe...

Sandee LaMotte

Melatonin industry asked to voluntarily tighten standards after dramatic rise in childhood ER visits

A March 2024 report from the CDC discovered some 11,000 children had been seen in emergency rooms between 2019 and 2022 after ingesting melatonin while unsupervised.

2 hours ago

FILE - An Alaska Airlines aircraft sits in the airline's hangar at Seattle-Tacoma International Air...

Associated Press

Alaska Airlines briefly grounds flights due to technical issue

Alaska Airlines briefly grounded all flights Wednesday due to a technical issue.

2 hours ago

In this handout photo provided by Disneyland Resort, a view of Sleeping Beauty Castle in Disneyland...

Amy Taxin

Southern California city council gives a key approval for Disneyland expansion plan

Disney has received a key approval to expand its theme park offerings in California as it seeks to build new, immersive lands for visitors.

2 hours ago

FILE - Bonneville International was recognized on Tuesday for its fundraising efforts during and af...

Mark Jones

Bonneville International recognized for its ‘Maui Strong’ fundraising efforts

Bonneville International has been recognized with the National Association of Broadcasters Service to America Award for its "Maui Strong" fundraising campaign, as announced Tuesday.

19 hours ago

FILE - MyPillow chief executive Mike Lindell talks to reporters at the Republican National Committe...

Steve Karnowski, Associated Press

Supreme Court won’t hear Mike Lindell’s challenge over FBI seizure of cellphone

The U.S. Supreme Court has denied a petition by MyPillow founder and election denier Mike Lindell to consider his challenge to the legality of the FBI’s seizure of his cellphone at a Minnesota restaurant drive-through.

20 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Women hold card for scanning key card to access Photocopier Security system concept...

Les Olson

Why Printer Security Should Be Top of Mind for Your Business

Connected printers have vulnerable endpoints that are an easy target for cyber thieves. Protect your business with these tips.

Modern chandelier hanging from a white slanted ceiling with windows in the backgruond...

Lighting Design

Light Up Your Home With These Top Lighting Trends for 2024

Check out the latest lighting design trends for 2024 and tips on how you can incorporate them into your home.

Technician woman fixing hardware of desktop computer. Close up....

PC Laptops

Tips for Hassle-Free Computer Repairs

Experiencing a glitch in your computer can be frustrating, but with these tips you can have your computer repaired without the stress.

Close up of finger on keyboard button with number 11 logo...

PC Laptops

7 Reasons Why You Should Upgrade Your Laptop to Windows 11

Explore the benefits of upgrading to Windows 11 for a smoother, more secure, and feature-packed computing experience.

Stylish room interior with beautiful Christmas tree and decorative fireplace...

Lighting Design

Create a Festive Home with Our Easy-to-Follow Holiday Prep Guide

Get ready for festive celebrations! Discover expert tips to prepare your home for the holidays, creating a warm and welcoming atmosphere for unforgettable moments.

Battery low message on mobile device screen. Internet and technology concept...

PC Laptops

9 Tips to Get More Power Out of Your Laptop Battery

Get more power out of your laptop battery and help it last longer by implementing some of these tips from our guide.

No one claimed veteran’s remains, so St. Louis hospital arranged for military funeral