Terrence Sund died in Vietnam in 1967 but there's no headstone or marker memorializing his short life.
The Menomonee Falls native drowned in a Viet Cong tunnel on Dec. 6, 1967. He was 20.
When his remains returned to Wisconsin the following month, Sund's ashes were interred in a room at Wisconsin Memorial Park Cemetery in Brookfield. They're still there.
Navy veteran Steve Conto didn't think that was right. With the help of the American Legion in Wisconsin and other veterans, Conto raised $5,000 to move the cremated remains of Sund and his mother, who died in 2011, to the veterans section of Wisconsin Memorial Park, where he will be buried with full military honors next month.
Now, the American Legion is launching an effort to see if there are remains of any other indigent veterans being stored in Wisconsin funeral homes and cemeteries. And the organization has created a restricted fund for veterans who died without next of kin or without the funds to pay for funeral expenses.
The American Legion is working with the Wisconsin Department of Veterans of Affairs "to reach out to funeral service providers across the state to identify veterans who might be in limbo and assist in every way possible to make sure they get a dignified burial," said state Adjutant David Kurtz.
The group will send letters to Wisconsin's approximately 450 funeral service providers for names of indigent people whose remains are being stored and cross reference them with Department of Defense lists of veterans.
"Our honor guards do a lot of work across the state, firing the final volley, playing 'Taps', folding flags at veterans' ceremonies so as a consequence they know these people individually. This is an effort that we think we'll approach from both the state perspective by the mail but also at the grass-roots level by asking Legionnaires to speak to the funeral providers in their hometowns," Kurtz said.
Sund graduated from Menomonee Falls High School in 1965 and was serving in B Company, 1st Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division in Kontum Province in South Vietnam when he died while searching a tunnel. His body was recovered on Christmas Eve and returned home. For unknown reasons, his remains were interred in a room at the Brookfield cemetery, which is not open to public viewing.
When Conto of Appleton, a member of American Legion Post 38 there, discovered this, he contacted Sund's sister who gave him permission to raise funds for his burial in the veterans areas of the cemetery.
"This really bothered me. Here he was never honored, there was no closure, he was never given a place his comrades could come and visit," said Conto, who served in the Navy from 1976 to 1998. "As veterans get older our long-term memories kick in and we want to find some peace in some way by visiting grave sites."
After watching the film "We Were Soldiers" 13 years ago, Conto wondered if any troops participating in the Vietnam War battle of Ia Drang Valley depicted in the movie were from Wisconsin. Then he began searching for the final resting places for Wisconsin Vietnam veterans killed in action, first in the Fox Valley and then the entire state. His list grew to 1,247 Vietnam KIAs with Wisconsin connections who are buried in more than 900 cemeteries in 28 states and Mexico and Puerto Rico.
Conto has visited all of the resting places, creating a database and posting the information on the Vietnam Memorial web site. Now Sund, whose name is among the more than 50,000 on the Wall in Washington, D.C., will soon get a hero's burial.