Unclaimed veteran laid to rest

  • Published
  • By Airman Ashley Richards
  • 319th Reconnaissance Wing Public Affairs

An unclaimed veteran was given a dignified burial by base honor guard and state veterans at the Fargo National Cemetery, N.D., Oct. 16, 2020.

Lelan Arthur Derr, Iowa native, and United States Air Force veteran who served in the Vietnam War era between 1971 and 1975, died December 10, 2019.

The Cass County Coroner’s Office deputy coroner, Darin Haverland, became involved in the case and intended to help provide Derr a dignified burial, but was unable to without discharge papers or family to claim the veteran.

Haverland then called John Runsvold, co-owner of a local funeral home to assume Derr’s remains.

“I was arranging for another veteran’s burial at the Fargo National Cemetery and speaking with the National Cemetery Scheduling Office,” Runsvold explained. “I mentioned I had the cremated remains of another veteran who I wanted to bury, but was unable to locate the necessary paperwork.”

Runsvold said he was directed to file an Unclaimed Remains Eligibility Request, which was ultimately approved for Derr to be buried at the Fargo National Cemetery. Shortly thereafter the funeral was scheduled.

“It was then I asked the Grand Forks Air Force Base Honor Guard if they would be able to provide honor for Derr, even though I and the cemetery administrator might be the only ones attending,” said Runsvold. “Out of respect, there was an invitation sent to local veteran groups in case anyone wanted to attend.”

When asked, Tech. Sgt. Ephraim Advincula, 319th Force Support Squadron Honor Guard program manager, expressed it wasn’t a matter of thought when he accepted the request from Runsvold to provide the military rites for Derr.

“My honor guard flight was able to fire the three-volley rifle salute and a flag folding ceremony for Derr’s funeral,” said Advincula. “It was truly an honor for us to provide rites for our fallen brother in arms.”

Approximately 200 people showed up for Derr’s funeral, despite Runsvold’s initial beliefs that there might not be anyone in attendance.

“Veterans stick together,” said Wayne Hogenson, attendee and fellow veteran. “We’re a whole ‘nother family you gain when you’re in the military.”

Derr is the very first unclaimed veteran to be buried at the Fargo National Cemetery.