The ashes of a World War One veteran have reached a place of honor after spending 36 years in storage at a Cedar Falls funeral home. James Perrine died in 1974, at the age of 88, but no one claimed the urn that held his ashes. Friday afternoon, a motorcycle escort left a West Des Moines funeral home with that urn and made its way to the Iowa Veterans Cemetery near Van Meter.

Perrine had been an Army Captain during World War One. During World War Two he advised the Navy on submarine detection. He went on to a renowned career in physics, lecturing at dozens of universities in North America and even wrote the handbook on how to use a sliderule. Perrine was a University of Northern Iowa professor when he retired.

Seventy-year-old Paul Jones of Montezuma was one of Perrine’s students and he was at the Veterans Cemetery Friday to pay his final respects. “He was an excellent person, told some interesting stories about Bell Labs and all the interesting things he had done,” Jones says.

Perrine helped establish trans-Atlantic telephone service when he worked for Bell. His former student was saddened to hear the professor’s remains had been in limbo for nearly four decades, inside an urn which was inside a plain cardboard box — in storage in a Cedar Falls funeral home.

“It never should have happened,” Jones says. The professor’s remains are now properly buried beside a headstone that bears his name. The veterans group “Missing in America” is contacting mortuaries across the country, searching for the cremated remains of veterans who’ve gone unclaimed, so those veterans can have a proper burial.

Bill Lauchlan, the group’s coordinator in Iowa, attended the funeral. “We’re trying to bring them all home, bring them all to their final rest and there’s hundreds, if not thousands, still out there and they’re crying to us and that’s what I’m trying to do — answer that cry,” Laughlan says. “They’ve been sitting on shelves all over the country for years and we can’t do that to our brothers and our sisters.”

Laughlin’s group is lobbying for new laws which would stipulate a funeral home may store the ashes of a veteran for a year, but once that 12-month period has elapsed a veterans group would be contacted to arrange for a burial. The American flag used for Captain Perrine’s funeral is being flown at the entrance of cemetery where he was laid to rest.

Perrine is the 500 veteran to be buried at the Iowa Veterans Cemetery.

By Scott Pierce