The St. Mary of the Lakes Parish Knights of Columbus Council and the Medford parish helped raise more than $8,000 for the honorable interment of veterans’ remains. Standing with the donation check are, from left, Mickey Zawatcki, past grand Knight of the council, Jerry Skorch, vice chairman and state chaplain of the N.J. Mission of Honor Program, and Father Daniel Swift, parish pastor. Courtesy photo
The St. Mary of the Lakes Parish Knights of Columbus Council and the Medford parish helped raise more than $8,000 for the honorable interment of veterans’ remains. Standing with the donation check are, from left, Mickey Zawatcki, past grand Knight of the council, Jerry Skorch, vice chairman and state chaplain of the N.J. Mission of Honor Program, and Father Daniel Swift, parish pastor. Courtesy photo

Upon learning of a need to provide honorable interment of orphaned and abandoned remains of American Veterans, the Knights of Columbus Council swung into action, ultimately raising $8,400 toward the cause.

Mickey Zawatcki, past grand knight of the council based in St. Mary of the Lakes Parish, Medford, brought the N.J. Mission of Honor Program to his fellow Knights’ attention and spoke following all the parish Masses the weekend of Nov. 2-3.

“Several of my brother Knights and I were recently at one of the interment ceremonies for 12 veterans,” Zawatcki explained. “It was an emotional event shared by numerous servicemen, a veteran’s motorcycle motorcade, and generals from each branch of service. We were even presented with a flag and a framed bio of a serviceman being interred. It was nice to see these veterans finally receive the honor they each deserve.”

Father Daniel Swift, parish pastor, offered to help through a second collection conducted Nov. 10, just prior to Veterans Day. The $8,400 proceeds from the collection were presented by Father Swift and Zawatcki to Jerry Skorch, vice chairman and state chaplain of the N.J. Mission of Honor Program.

“On behalf of the N.J. Mission of Honor Program and American Veterans and Knights of Columbus Council 6520, we are extremely grateful to the parishioners of St. Mary of the Lakes for their amazing support,” Zawatcki said.

Through the program to date, remains of 618 veterans have been located – some dating back to the Spanish-American War of 1898, and 273 of the veterans have been honorably interred. Meanwhile, 345 veterans’ remains were reunited with family and loved ones.

“I was surprised and appalled to find out that there are hundreds of cremated remains of American veterans that have been abandoned or orphaned, and are left sitting on shelves of funeral homes, crematoriums, veteran’s homes, senior homes, prisons and hospitals,” Zawatcki said. “These remains are sometimes stored in trash bags, boxes and even old coffee cans.”

Zawatcki noted that the average length of time the cremains of veterans, who “are the very men and women who dedicated themselves and sometimes fought for our freedom and country,” have been abandoned is 28 years, and some as long as 70 years.

“Even with the work of volunteers, proper interment for each veteran ends up costing $300,” said Zawatcki.

The Medford resident also explained that through volunteer efforts of the N.J. Mission of Honor Program, the department of the Military and Veterans Affairs will assist in the searching and claiming cremains of veterans around the state; identification of the service history and biography of the veteran; locate any remaining family of the veteran, if any exist; returning of the cremains to family, or provide proper, honorable interment with full military honors at Brigadier General Doyle Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Wrightstown.

For information or questions about the program, contact Mickey Zawatcki, 856-296-6949, jmzdaddy29@gmail.com, or Jerry Skorch, 856-404-7335, jpskorch@hotmail.com.