After a self-storage manager found the remains of a veteran abandoned in a unit at Mini Stor in Citrus Heights, Calif., he embarked on a year-long journey to ensure the ashes are buried.
Jerry Petersen discovered the remains of James Gerald Leach, a retired U.S. Air Force senior master sergeant, in Mini Stor’s maintenance unit while cleaning. Prior to Petersen’s employment, the urn had been placed there after the tenant’s unit was abandoned and sold at auction. It wasn’t clear how long the remains had been at the storage facility, but Leach’s death had occurred 13 years earlier.
The urn was engraved with the Air Force emblem, leading Petersen, who served in the Army from 1977 to 1989, to look for Leach’s family. Unable to contact any, he then turned to the California Department of Veterans Affairs, who put him in contact with Missing in America Project (MIAP), a group that looks for unclaimed remains of veterans and helps facilitate burials.
Since 2006, MIAP has located and identified the remains of 1,024 veterans and interred 855 in state or Department of Veterans Affairs cemeteries, according to MIAP's website.
Petersen, 51, worked with MIAP so Leach could be interred alongside his peers at the Northern California Veterans Cemetery. The ashes are scheduled to be honorably interred Nov. 17. Petersen plans to attend.