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Civil War veteran's ashes will return home nearly a century after his death

A Civil War soldier's ashes remained at the Oregon State Hospital for nearly 100 years. Now he will finally travel across the country to return to his original home in Maine. (SBG photo)

SALEM, Ore. – U.S. armed forces honored a Civil War veteran Monday who died 96 years ago at the Oregon State Hospital. In the decades after his death, no one came to claim his ashes.

For nearly a century, Pvt. Jewett Williams' ashes were housed at the Oregon State Hospital, along with more than 3,000 other forgotten people. That is, until Monday.

“We are here now to transfer him back to the state of Maine to honor his service during the civil war and to make sure that he receives the burial that he is due,” said Cameron Smith, director of the Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs.

Williams lived in Maine before moving to Oregon near the end of his life. When he died in Oregon, nobody claimed him, nobody honored him.

“It's very gratifying to see someone repatriated to their family or to their home state and it's very exciting,” said Phyllis Zegers, genealogy researcher.

It’s all thanks to Zegers. She researched and wrote about Williams.

Servicemen in Maine found her research online and now, the veteran will be honored and returned home.

“That they would run into my research and then take it from there was really exciting,” Zegers said.

His ashes will move across the country by motorcycle with an organization called the Patriot Guard Riders.

“Often, The Patriot Guard and others honor those most recent casualties from Iraq and Afghanistan, but very rare to have a civil war veteran,” Smith said.

“All of us find it a real honor and a privilege to be able to do this and the veterans are the reason that we have that privilege,” said Blake Lee, ride captain of the Oregon Patriot Guard.

And for the remaining stories behind the thousands of unclaimed ashes, Zegers says she’s going to research every one of them so they too can return home.

The Patriot Guard Riders plan to arrive in Gettysburg on August 22. There, they’ll transfer custody of the ashes to the State of Maine.

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