DENVER — Before reaching their final resting place at Fort Logan National Cemetery, there was a long journey that started in the home of Leonard Smith.
"I was in a meeting and volunteered what I thought was going to be a small job," Smith said. "It's turned out to be a whole lot more."
Smith is an Army veteran and member of the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 1071 in Colorado. He is also part of a team going through mortuaries in the Denver area like Crown Hill Cemetery to find unclaimed veteran remains that have been forgotten.
"Some of them are most likely because a person didn't have relatives with money for a burial," Smith said. "So, they're just left at the mortuary."
Left at the mortuary, sometimes for decades, instead of being buried at Fort Logan National Cemetery. Stan Paprocki is president of Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 1071. He doesn't like the idea of people being left behind.
"I've asked myself, why could this happen?" Paprocki said. "We, as Vietnam Veterans of America, need to get these veterans put where they belong."
Jim Topkoff is a Navy veteran who is also helping identify veterans to get them out of storage areas.
"Vets on a shelf they called them and initially it had been sitting for 50, 60 years," Topkoff said. "There's literally thousands across the country."
Smith and the team work to find them and confirm their status with the Veterans Administration. He said it can be an arduous task of going through old records and matching names.
"A labor that we want to do to right the wrong," Smith said. "We don't want to leave some veteran cremains on a shelf somewhere."
So far, this chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America believes they have identified more than 120 forgotten servicemen.
"Giving them a final resting place out here at Fort Logan, it's really a rewarding experience," Topkoff said.
Paprocki said they are looking to find veterans of any war, but those who fought in Vietnam are especially sought after.
"We weren't treated so good when we got back from the Vietnam War," Paprocki said. "So, now we're not going to shun any veteran and this is part of that."
Though Smith never knew any of these people, he this labor is personal because of his time posted at Fort Sam Houston during the Vietnam War.
"It was a major site for burn patients and so you just want to pay back. So, you really do," Smith said.
Vietnam Veterans of America want to look for unclaimed remains in mortuaries across Colorado. Smith said they won't give up till everyone is found.
"You know, whether they're Vietnam veterans, or World War I veterans or World War II, they're still veterans," Smith said. "We're not going to abandon them."