- Associated Press - Monday, June 16, 2014

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) - The burial of a U.S. Navy veteran was delayed for months because he had no immediate next-of-kin to pay for or authorize his burial.

A lack of military service records prevented Luther Payne from being buried in a national cemetery after he died on Dec. 2, 2013, at Martha Jefferson Hospital in Charlottesville. Payne was 95, The Daily Progress (https://bit.ly/1pAbGIo) reported.

A death investigation wasn’t required because Payne died in the hospital under medical care. Under a 2013 ruling by then-Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, there was no requirement for Albemarle County to make arrangements.

Two church members who had befriended Payne could not make arrangements because state law at the time did not allow individuals other than family members to provide for burials.

“We had been visiting him every day, talking with him and working with doctors, and all of sudden our authority wasn’t there after he died,” Sandy Bingler, a member of Beaver Dam Baptist Church in Troy, told the newspaper. “We didn’t know what to do and there was nothing we could legally do.”

The situation changed when the General Assembly passed a law in March allowing individuals to provide for burial of unclaimed human remains.

Payne was to be buried Monday in a plot donated by the church in its cemetery. Hill & Wood Funeral Home offered to take care of the body and donated a casket. American Legion Post 74 was to provide a color guard.

“Him being in the morgue that long, we felt it just wasn’t right,” Richard A. Severin, Post 74’s veterans’ claims officer, told the newspaper. “He had served his country and to be in that situation just wasn’t right.”

Severin said information about Payne was limited.

Payne told visitors he was at Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked on Dec. 7, 1941, and that his wife and son were killed. But investigators could find no record of his service.

Proof of Payne’s service came in a picture printed in a wartime publication of crewmembers aboard the USS Shangri-La, an Essex-class aircraft carrier commissioned in 1944.

The new state law also allows local law enforcement to search for next of kin. With that authority, Lt. Todd Hopwood of the Albemarle County Police Department began checking Payne’s background and found his granddaughter, Margaret Wheeler.

Wheeler, Severin, Bingler and Carver worked to put together a service for Payne.

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Information from: The Daily Progress, https://www.dailyprogress.com


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