Honoring Forgotten Heroes with the aid of a Look Trailers Auto Hauler

October 12, 2016

Missing in America Project volunteers and their new enclosed Vision car trailer 

Success means something different depending on who you ask. For some, it’s a new job, a finished project or finally purchasing that new auto hauler you’ve had your mind set on. For Roger and Crystal Graves, it means taking care of those who can no longer take care of themselves. We recently had the pleasure of speaking with Roger over the phone about his time as a volunteer for an initiative much larger than himself – the Missing in America Project

The purpose of the Missing in America Project, or MIAP, is clear. “To locate, identify and inter the unclaimed cremated remains of American veterans through the joint efforts of private, state and federal organizations. To provide honor and respect to those who have served this country by securing a final resting place for these forgotten heroes.” 

Through one means or another, many soldiers return home only to become lost to family and friends. They find themselves separated, alone and addicted in order to cope with the things they’ve been through. Dedicated to making sure each veteran is honored for their service after they’ve passed, the MIAP team travels across the United States in search of cremated veterans that sit upon shelves, unidentified and collecting dust. The MIAP, with the help of citizen volunteers like Roger and Crystal, are looking to right this wrong one memorial service at a time. 

However, Roger and Crystal are not your ordinary volunteers. Roger is the Utah State Coordinator, the Region 2 Coordinator (ID, MT, NV, UT, WY) and the National Road Captain. Crystal is the Assistant State Coordinator of Utah. Retiring after long careers, their time working was far from over. The two of them organize the inventory, coordinate the research, decide who goes where, handle fundraising aspects and plan some pretty extensive escorts across the U.S. 

Having reached 43 states thus far, Roger recalled the story of Fred Salanti, a retired Major who’d attended a memorial service in 2006. Mr. Salanti was there to honor 21 veterans for their services, however, he was only one of two in attendance. As Roger put it, “He was struck by how incredibly sad and dishonorable it was… that our veterans are just sitting on shelves.” It would be this moment that inspired Mr. Salanti to create the MIAP in order to course-correct what had been going on for so long. However, that is always much easier said than done. 

The problems our soldiers face can be complicated, many finding themselves unable to assimilate back into civilian life. This means that if they should pass away, often no one knows about it. For MIAP volunteers, sometimes all you have is a name, date of death and some service years to work with. The team verifies whether the unclaimed are honorably discharged veterans, and if they are, they’re given a full military honors burial, just as they were promised. 

The Missing in America Project honors the forgotten heroes lost to time 

Roger says they’ve come across a million stories, referencing 15 Civil War veterans that sat on shelves for hundreds of years. In March of 2016, he recalled interring a veteran who served in the Mexican-American War in the late 1840s. As Roger put it, “[The fact that] we were holding onto these unclaimed remains … it didn’t even cross my mind. These special people, our vets, they’ve done stuff that only a small percent of people actually do. They stood up, took an oath and were separated from family and friends. Then they came back. As a nation, we can’t just disregard these people because they made a choice. We need to step up and take care of those that have done the same for us.” 

When asked about the good they’d encountered out on the road, an email from Crystal happily reported that, “We have been fortunate enough to be able to reunite 12 families who have taken their loved ones elsewhere.” Expressing his own joy about reuniting families, Roger went on to say that traveling has opened his eyes to the patriotism that is alive and well in the smaller communities. For example, he says they’ve seen people standing on bridges waving flags, even spotting farmers out in their fields showing their respect. The motorcycle crowd has also shown their support in droves. As riders themselves, when a few hundred Harley Davidsons are holding flags and saluting, Roger says that, “It really reinforces my faith in patriotism in the United States of America.” 

While traveling state-to-state in their motorhome, their Look enclosed car trailer allows them to tow their automobile and motorcycle without compromising space or limiting their destination choices. Crystal said the trailer allows for easier access to funeral homes, mortuaries and the crematoriums they visit. As Roger put it, “I can’t even tell you how good it pulls, because I can’t tell it’s there. It’s straight as an arrow, a good product, and this isn’t part of an endorsement, it’s just an awesome setup.” 

Acquiring the means to travel coast-to-coast thanks to an enclosed car trailer 

Robison Rentals, the dealership Roger and Crystal purchased their Vision auto hauler from, spent the time they needed to cover all the necessities, from paint, style and everything else. Roger says, “I went back and forth and I’ve got to tell you, [the staff] was stellar. They were never impatient with my changes or if something was over-budget. They worked things out and got it down to an affordable price. I couldn’t be happier with Look and Robison.” 

In terms of how it stacked up to the competition, Roger admitted that he’d looked at different manufacturers for a couple of years. “I needed one within a specific price range, but the competition was way too expensive. Look Trailers fit right where it had the appearance, style and the ability to add the extras I wanted, without raising the price.” As of this blog’s publishing, Roger and Crystal have had the Vision car trailer just a couple of months. However, Roger says there have been no issues thus far. “A winding mountain road, up and down a hill… it’s a very well designed trailer.” With many more services to attend, Roger and the rest of the volunteers need dependable products to take them the distance. 

By the end of 2016, the Missing in America Project expects to have interred 3,000 veterans. They also believe that there are upwards of 200,000 veterans still waiting upon shelves across the United States. 

With so many ways to define success, I asked Roger what that meant for the Missing in America Project. “The end goal is to get every veteran on a shelf taken care of. Honorably buried, given honors, the folding of the flag, three rifle volley, Taps and so forth. I don’t think it will ever stop, but we can slow it down. And, the trailer will help spread the word, allowing us to travel and get the word out to other volunteers that didn’t know about this.” Together, we can make sure no sacrifice becomes a forgotten hero. 

The Missing in America Project is a national organization that is 100% volunteer based and a 501 (c)3 non-profit corporation. If you wish to be a part of this great initiative, you can find upcoming dates regarding where the group is headed right on their website. You can even become a supporter here.