VFW helps with soldier’s remains

By on January 9, 2019

On Friday, Dec. 14, 75-year-old Barbara Dixon drove three hours from Middletown, Delaware to Ephrata.

Her destination was VFW Post 3376, and her goal was to be reunited with her brother, Ronald, who had died and was cremated in 1996. Those cremains were discovered on Nov. 19 by Lititz resident and GSM Roofing employee, Shane Hanna. While on a job site in New Castle, Del., Hanna and his co-workers took a peek at four industrial dumpsters that they would use later in the day.

“It was first thing in the morning, at an old Pathmark site,” explained Hanna. “It was just something that caught my eye. I picked up the brass box, and it was heavier than you would expect. The wooden box was a few feet away from it.”

That wooden cover is six inches tall and seven inches by nine inches across. It also had a plate with a U.S. Navy insignia and USS Saratoga imprinted on it.

“After putting it in my truck, I called my dad during the day,” continued Hanna. “He’s a veteran and lives in Akron. He said to bring it home.”

Two days later, at the suggestion of his father and some on-line research by his sister, Hanna came to the VFW.

“He dropped off the cremains with one of our managers,” said VFW Quartermaster Amy MacKenzie. “I got in touch with the funeral home the week after Thanksgiving. It took several times to explain what I had. The clerk I spoke to said she would do her best to go through the archives and see if she could put me in touch with a family member.”

And that led her to Barbara Dixon.

VFW Ephrata – Soldier’s remains returned. Pictured (left to right) Post QuarterMaster Amy MacKenzie, Commander Dwayne MacKenzie and Barbara Dickson.

“When the lady called, she asked if I have a brother Ronald Lee Pruitt, who died in 1996,” described Dixon, from the second floor of the VFW. “When I said yes, she said ‘then I have the right Barbara Dixon.’ She said I have another strange thing to tell you. Your brother’s ashes were found and they are in Lancaster County.” Ronald Pruitt was born in 1955, and was in basic training in Michigan in 1973. After three years in the Navy, he moved home to help care for his recently widowed mother. He died at the age of 41.

“To my surprise, the next thing I knew I was receiving a phone call from Barbara,” added MacKenzie. “The funeral home reached out to her and she called me.”

“I can’t believe they found them in a dumpster, I was shocked,” said Dixon. “When my brother was cremated, his ashes went to my older sister. Then my sister died in 2000. My brother-in-law remarried and we didn’t hear from him again.”

Dixon is still missing additional pieces in this case. She does not know where her older sister’s cremains are. There were originally seven siblings, including one that died before Barbara was born. She has also lost touch with Ronald’s son, William.

In addition to the cremains, Post 3376 presented Dixon with a folded U.S. flag. “It would have been easy just to give up,” added MacKenzie. “But that’s not how we do things. I think we did our job here. We stand ready at all times to assist any military member or their family.”

“I can’t thank them enough,” said Dixon. “It does give a boost to the holidays. I’m just so glad that he’s going home. I think he would really like that. Hopefully, he’ll be interred in a military cemetery close to where my husband is. It means a lot.”

As to the roofer that started the ball rolling?

“I’m happy,” stated Hanna. “I couldn’t believe anyone would throw remains in a dumpster. I’m glad she could have some kind of closure after 15 years. I’m glad he’s back where he’s supposed to be.”

Kevin Frey is a correspondent for The Ephrata Review.

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