There were few words to be said over the remains of Bruce Jager and Andrew Tulodzieki Friday at the Vermont Veterans Cemetery. Little was known about the two men, both Navy veterans who died in their 70s without family to claim their bodies, but they became the first to be interred in a new section of the Randolph Center cemetery.
Assistant medical examiner and area pastor Tom Harty presided over a brief service, along with Robert Burke, director of the Vermont Office of Veterans Affairs, at the cemetery’s small hilltop chapel.
Harty explained that Vermont law gives authority over a deceased person first to his or her spouse, then to the deceased’s children, siblings, or other family members. If none can be found or are willing to take that responsibility, friends, neighbors, or any other “interested party” can claim the body.
In this case, Harty said, he took on the role of interested party after visiting Jager’s apartment in White River Junction in his capacity as medical examiner.
He said he knew very little about Jager, but could tell from an apartment filled with outdoors equipment and photos, that Jager had been an avid hunter, fisher, and wildlife photographer. Harty found from Jager’s service record that he had been born in Springfield, Mass. and that he served in the Navy from 1961-1967.
He shared his plan to hold a ceremony for Jager, who died in White River Junction last year, and learned of Tulodzeiki, another unclaimed veteran.
Even less is known about Tulodzeicki.
He also served in the Navy during the Vietnam War—from 1962-1967. He was born in New York City and died at UVM Medical Center in March at age 74.
The two sailors received their final farewells with full military honors on Friday.
A team of naval personnel made the drive from Portsmouth, N.H. to serve as a flag-folding team, members of Randolph’s American Legion Post 9 attended as an honor guard, and a handful of community members came to observe the ceremony after seeing a note on Facebook.
Burke and Harty spoke briefly and then two identical ceremonies began. By military tradition, each veteran is entitled to individual honors.
The women of the naval color guard performed two flag-foldings, presenting Jager’s flag to Harty and Tulodzeiki’s to longtime Day Funeral Home director Randy Garner. Those tri-folded flags will ultimately find their way to Camp Johnson, where they will be displayed alongside flags of other unclaimed veterans.
Each of the deceased then received a rifle salute from the Post 9 honor guard and a solemn playing of Taps.
Harty noted that the date—December 7, the 77th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941—seemed fitting for the two Navy veterans. He pointed out in his remarks that the honors the two unclaimed men would receive that day were the same, albeit with far less ceremony, as those that were administered the prior day to President George H.W. Bush, himself a naval veteran.