Motorcade escorts remains of 5 veterans to Tahoma National Cemetery
PORT ORCHARD — It was that time of year. Cody Black rode his motorcycle to the Kitsap County Administrative Building in the morning. He was there to escort the unclaimed remains of five veterans on their final trip to Tahoma National Cemetery.
“I feel good about it. Really. And I still do it every year,” said Black, of Port Orchard, a veteran who served in the Marine Corps and the military and is a member of Combat Veterans International.
Saturday’s event was Black’s 11th run since beginning The Unforgotten, Run to Tahoma ceremony in 2011.
Each year, the Kitsap County Veterans Advisory Council, County Coroner’s Office, Combat Veterans International and other veterans groups work together to transport the remains of unclaimed veterans from Kitsap County to the Tahoma cemetery.
The origin of the ceremony dates back to 2008 when Mike Carroll, a founding member of the advisory board, read an article about the abandoned remains of deceased veterans at a funeral home in Missouri. Carroll contacted council staff to verify the unclaimed remains of the Kitsap County veterans – there were six. The council, Combat Veterans International and other community members received the remains from the county coroner and escorted them to Tahoma on October 2 of that year, according to the county’s website.
The next run to Tahoma was launched on Memorial Day weekend in 2011, known as The Unforgotten, Run to Tahoma Celebration of Live Ceremony.
The board did not hold the ceremony in 2020 — not because of COVID-19 restrictions, but because there were no unclaimed veterans to escort that year. Last year, a scaled-down ceremony was launched due to the pandemic with about 250 motorcyclists joining the escort, said Peggy Roy, chair of the Kitsap County Veterans Advisory Council.
The council estimates around 250 to 300 motorcyclists this year, Roy said.
The five unclaimed remains belong to veterans Jose R. Bracer, Navy; Glen Kip Kepler, Navy; Dennis Dean Tierney, Marine Corps, Kirk Horning, Army; and Robert Michael Cooper, Army.
“That’s all the information we get about them,” Roy said. “We don’t know where they came from. We don’t know where they served. So we have their name, what department they were in, and that’s it.”
It rained lightly in the morning. Tons of motorbikes filled Sydney Avenue outside the administration building, waiting to leave. Staff from the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office temporarily blocked off the street for the event.
Ana Villanueva’s blue motorcycle was part of the procession. It was the first time that Villanueva, daughter of a veteran, had joined the escort, she said.
Villanueva saw the news about the event in a Kitsap motorcycle Facebook group and decided to come. She thought the event was great and the attendees were quite friendly.
“It’s amazing,” Villanueva said. “I think it’s a great feeling. It’s a pretty positive environment.”
The remains were stored in a wooden box covered with an American flag. As the ceremony began, music wafted through the air. The military folded the American flag. Attendees stood and saluted as the boxes of remains were transferred to a waiting vehicle outside the building.
County Commissioner Ed Wolfe thanked those who came over the holiday weekend. “These selfless sacrifices should not be forgotten,” Wolfe said.
“It’s very important for the Veterans Advisory Council and for the motorcycle teams to honor veterans and bring them to Tahoma, their final resting place,” Roy said.
The motorcade left the site in the rain, heading for the final resting place of Bracer, Kepler, Tierney, Horning and Cooper.