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Honoring Vietnam veterans causing an unexpected issue

Families leaving ashes at memorial wall
Posted at 2:01 PM, May 07, 2018

As Vietnam veterans grow older, the National Park Service said it has seen an increase in people leaving remains at the Veteran's Memorial Wall in Washington D.C., so it has now put up signs asking people to stop.

Nancy Skinner wanted to honor her fiance Ron Looney after he died in 2008. When he died, Skinner had him cremated.

Other than Looney's remains, photos were one of the few things she had left of Looney. The snapshots capture the motorcycle trips the couple took around the country, family get-togethers, and even Looney’s time in the Vietnam War.

“He was over there five times,” recalled Skinner.

Soon after his death, she took some of Looney's ashes and set out on one last adventure with him. 

“I went ahead and got what I thought would probably be the right amount if you cremated his heart, the right amount size,” said Skinner.

She packed the ashes in a wooden box and drove from Mississippi to Washington, D.C., to leave Looney's cremains at the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial Wall.

“It was something he so wanted to do, so wanted to be there. I knew that was something he would have wanted,” said Skinner.

The National Park Service said Looney’s cremains are one of about 70 that have now been left at the wall over the years.

“A lot of Vietnam veterans feel very connected to the memorial. It speaks to them in a way a lot of other places in the country don't,” said Janet Folkerts, a curator with the Park Service. “Cremains are kind of definitely more sensitive and something that needs a higher standard of care than we're really equipped to deal with here,” said Folkerts.

The cremains left at the wall are currently brought to a Park Service building and kept in a metal storage cabinet. But Folkerts said the Park Service is looking into new options.

“We’re hoping some veterans cemetery could help us with the cremains we already have and we could setup some system in the future,” she said.

While Skinner said she understands the Park Service’s concerns, she hinted she would still have found a way to honor Looney’s wishes.

“I made it a pretty little box. And I didn't figure anybody would mind. Makes me wonder if I need to go back and pick him up. But his ashes are still gonna stay there. Sorry," Skinne said.