ST. LOUIS – “He had no family,” Chandra White told the group before leaving a hospital parking lot during a funeral procession to Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery.
A US veteran who died alone in August at Barnes-Jewish Hospital was laid to rest on Thursday with all the military honors he deserved, something hospital staff worked to ensure.
White directs the hospital’s Office of Deceased Affairs, Missouri’s only deceased affairs program with a team dedicated solely to helping families through the next steps after their loved one dies in hospital, he said. she stated. It is one of about 10 in the country.
The veteran died in hospital in August with no one claiming his body, White said. His office conducted an exhaustive search for next of kin but could not locate anyone.
Since the office of the deceased was established in 2018 at BJC HealthCare’s Barnes-Jewish Hospital, the bodies of approximately 30 patients have gone unclaimed.
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“We are able to move forward and give them a dignified cremation,” White said. The ashes are kept at the hospital in case relatives return one day to claim them.
As part of their search for relatives, the staff of the deceased office also checks military records.
“If we can determine that he is a veteran, then we can bid him a dignified farewell with the honors he deserves,” White said. Another unclaimed person in 2018 was also able to receive a military funeral at Jefferson Barracks.
The veteran buried Thursday served three years in the US Navy during the Vietnam War with an honorable discharge, hospital officials said.
The deceased’s office held a procession for his cremated remains from a hospital parking lot to Jefferson Barracks. Around 30 BJC HealthCare employees who are military or veterans formed a “line of honour” to greet the procession as it left.
David Rogers, project manager for BJC HealthCare who serves in the US 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 take care of each other. … It doesn’t end when someone’s watch is over,” Rogers said.
Just days before Memorial Day, the salute was also an opportunity to remember the sacrifices of those who served the country, he said: “To honor them, by 1, our presence; and 2, by how we carry on their legacy of service.
The Barnes-Jewish team invited the Patriot Guard Horsemena 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.
“That’s what we do,” said St. Peters runner Neil Hill, 67. “Our main objective is to ensure that no veteran goes to their final resting place alone.”
Media were also invited to the parking lot before the motorcade departed to learn about the hospital’s deceased program. While hospital officials wanted to tout the program, they did not provide the veteran’s name and initially tried to block media from attending the funeral, citing privacy laws. patients.
“We wanted to share, but our legal team advised us that this would be a violation of HIPAA. As their names will be spoken at the funeral, we were advised not to have any media there,” Laura High said. , 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, healthcare clearinghouses and healthcare providers.
Although the hospital declined to identify the veteran, his name, Robert Lawrence Openlander, appears on the Jefferson Barracks Funeral Schedule. The Patriot Guard Riders also put his name on their mission schedule.
The Veterans Legacy Memorial website lists Openlander’s date of birth as December 7, 1942, the first anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, which made him 78 when he died last year.
A search of public records provides small glimpses of his life. A 1970 US Navy publication shows that he served on the USS Robert E. Byrd, a destroyer.
A marriage record from 1981 shows that at the age of 39 he married a 27-year-old Lois Kimball of De Soto. His residence was then listed as Jennings.
The 1950 US Census shows him as a 7-year-old child living with his 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, published in 1973.
The Rev. Suzanne Anderson Hurdle, chaplain at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, delivered Openlander’s eulogy under a shelter at Jefferson Barracks. Patriot Guard flags flapped in a strong breeze as the clouds rolled in.
“Although we don’t know much about this man, we do know he served. We know he was loved,” Anderson-Hurdle said, “hopefully by relatives who helped him support him as he grew, giving him a foundation to build his life on.We hope he experienced the love of a partner or spouse, children or nieces or nephews, extended family and select friends.
A group of riflemen fired a three-volley salute. A bugler was playing tap-dancing. Two Navy sailors in white uniforms quietly and carefully fold an American flag. One knelt to place the flag in White’s lap.
The flag will be kept in a briefcase at the hospital, White said, while waiting for the family – if they ever come.