Army veteran's remains find new home in cemetery

Sunday, February 1, 2004

ST. LOUIS -- After Richard Winters' death eight years ago, the Army veteran's cremated remains were left in a St. Louis storage locker by a relative who left town. The remains finally have found a far more befitting home, thanks to two men who never knew him.

Winters, the St. Louisan who served two hitches in the Army in the 1950s and who died in 1996 at a veterans home, has been buried in Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St. Louis County.

The credit goes to brothers Jeff and Dave Nickles of Bonne Terre, and a national program begun here to ensure military burials for homeless veterans.

The brothers, who run resale shops in Bonne Terre, last month won the bid on the unclaimed contents of a storage locker in St. Louis. A week later, Dave Nickles discovered Winters' cremated remains in one of the boxes.

The brothers believed Winters deserved better and started making calls, though the inquiries went nowhere. So the Nickleses turned to a local television station, which aired a story on Jan. 18. Two days later, they got a call from Maj. Gen. Bill Branson of Hillsboro, an Army Reserve retiree and former funeral home executive.

Just two days after that, Winters was buried.

The funeral "completed what we wanted to have done," Jeff Nickles says. "This veteran was lost for eight years in a locker. We couldn't just throw him out in a Dumpster."

Five years ago, Branson had helped start the Homeless Veterans Burial Program, which attempted to address the growing problem of homeless veterans being buried without ceremonies in a potter's field somewhere.

On May 15, 2000, at Jefferson Barracks, the program saw to it that James Leonard Price received a dignified burial with all military honors, free of charge. The program since has spread to 10 other cities. Winters was the 207th veteran served by the program nationwide.

Branson himself drove to Bonne Terre Jan. 21 to pick up Winters' remains, then went to the funeral the next day. Also attending: the Nickles brothers.

Winters had a brother, Shelton Winters, who served in the Air Force in the 1950s. When Shelton Winters died in 2002, his family donated his body to science.

But on the day Richard Winters' remains were buried at Jefferson Barracks, a service also was held for Shelton Winters. At the family's request, Shelton Winters will get a memorial marker so that his name, like his brother's, will abide at the cemetery.

Information on the burial program is available from John Eckhoff, St. Louis County's manager of veterans services programs. The phone number is (314) 615-4413.

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