Coatesville Woman Ensures Chester County’s Unclaimed Veterans Are Interred with Military Honors

As an intern with the Chester County Coroner's Office, Justine Newman, inset, identified cremated remains of military veterans who were eligible to be buried in a national cemetery will full honors. Images via Justine Newman.

When Coatesville High School graduate Justine Newman began her internship with the Chester County Coroner’s Office in 2017, she quickly encountered the challenge of identifying and laying to rest the cremated remains of people whose identities were unknown, or whose next-of-kin declined responsibility for them.

Newman began the complicated process of tracing back through people’s lives and eventually discovered that seven of the remains belonged to military veterans who were eligible to be buried in a national cemetery will full honors. She coordinated with the branches of the military in which they served and with Washington Crossing National Cemetery in Bucks County to have all seven veterans interred on the same day in May 2017.

“Nobody should just be forgotten,” said Newman, who will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in health science from Northeastern University in Boston this spring. “Each of these people lived a life and they deserve recognition.”

Fast-forward two years later. Newman, who plans to attend medical and law school in order to become a forensic pathologist, has found nine more veterans and will have them buried in a second Unattended Veterans Service at Washington Crossing. The community is invited to attend the service at 830 Highland Road in Newtown on Aug. 29 at 2 PM.

“I didn’t get to meet these people, I didn’t know them, but in that moment, I felt the weight of what we were doing,” Newman said about the first ceremony. “These are people who served our country, and we were there to honor them.”

The veterans whose cremated remains will be interred with full military honors are:

  • Walter John Kelly, U.S. Navy Seaman, Vietnam Era, from Phoenixville
  • Stanley Joseph Wapnarski, U.S. Air Force Sergeant, Vietnam Era, from Phoenixville
  • Glennwood Redden, U.S. Marine Corps Corporal, from Coatesville
  • Lawrence P. Burgess, U.S. Army Specialist, Vietnam Era, from Coatesville
  • Robert Stewart, U.S. Army Private First Class, Vietnam Era, from Parkesburg
  • John Paul Poehlman, U.S. Army Specialist, from Parkesburg
  • Henry Thomas Spencer, U.S. Army Private First Class, Vietnam Era, from West Chester
  • Henry J. Ghelberg, U.S. Army Private First Class, from Exton
  • Joseph Sean Rinehart, U.S. Army Private 1, Persian Gulf Era, from Downingtown

During the ceremony, the veterans’ names will be read, and the Pennsylvania Military Honors team will present the flag on the behalf of the veterans. A rifle salute and live Taps will be provided. The veterans will then be placed in their own niche in the columbarium, which will be engraved with “Proudly Served.”

“These veterans are being recognized and receiving a military-honors burial thanks to the ongoing efforts of Justine Newman, an intern with our office, who began this project in 2017,” said Chester County Coroner Dr. Christina VandePol. “This will be the second Unattended Veterans Service for Chester County veterans, and we plan to make this an ongoing tradition. I applaud Justine’s initiative and her respect and compassion for these Chester County veterans. We and the Washington Crossing National Cemetery welcome anyone who wishes to join us in providing these veterans with the proper burial they deserve. We hope to see many interested individuals at this beautiful tribute to our local military.”

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