HEALDSBURG (KPIX 5) When the fire chief of Windsor in Sonoma County retired seven years ago, he found a second career and, not surprisingly, it too was in public service. This week’s Jefferson Award winner, Ron Collier serves military veterans who’ve served their country but have been forgotten.
It’s a call of duty not only for Collier, but also for the military escort team of Healdburg’s American Legion Post 111. Four times a year, Collier and his American Legion friends, deliver the cremated remains of veterans by motorcade to Sacramento Valley National Cemetery in Dixon. For Collier, volunteer head of the Sonoma County Chapter of the non-profit, ‘Missing in America Project,’ this final escort is also a very personal mission.
“They’ve earned that right, this country gave them that right,” said Collier. “And they need to be recognized for their service to this country.”
‘Missing in America’ means a veteran has passed away, but no family member or friend has stepped forward to claim the remains. Collier says there is an estimated 70,000 veterans sitting on shelves in mortuaries across the county still unclaimed. HIs feelings on the subject are simple:
“It’s not right!” Collier said.
Collier must legally claim the remains, explaining that he essentially must legally become the next of kin. He then identifies the person as a veteran, and gives them each their own formal military service.
Tim Madura is one of the Missing in America escort motorcycle escort riders. The American Legion Post 111 Commander has a deep admiration for Collier, who has never served in the military but has given 7 years to this project, helping bury 115 U.S. Veterans.
“We owe a lot to Ron for this. And he’s dedicated to it. Does a lot of work for this. The fact that veterans, anybody for that matter, are sitting on a shelf unclaimed for years and years is not the right thing,” said Madura. “They need their final farewell, to be buried, and this program provides that.”
Collier hopes that one day, all deceased veterans will be identified, buried at a national cemetery, and the ‘Missing in America Project’ will no longer be needed.
“It’s still that feeling that you finally get to bring them home. You finally get them to do what needs to happen, ” said Collier tearfully.” And that’s where the passion comes from in this. It’s really an awesome feeling to be able to do that.”
So for dedicating himself to giving proper military burials to members of the military who are ‘Missing in America,’ this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Ron Collier.