At home in Eatonville, Jim Pitcher started to fear his time was growing short. His wife passed away. His own health started to fade.
His thoughts turned to his father, George, gone 20 years but still close to the family, his ashes in a wooden urn at the Pitcher home.
It was time to find a final resting place for World War II Navy veteran George Pitcher. Wait much longer, and no one might know to bury the ashes in a veterans cemetery where they belonged.
“There’s no one for me to pass this on to,” said Jim Pitcher, himself a former sailor who served in the Navy from 1974-78.
The son on Monday raised his hand in a final salute to his father as the last notes of taps sounded at Mount Tahoma National Cemetery in Kent.
It was a ceremony George Pitcher deserved, but one he almost did not receive because he did not leave behind the kind of documentation that would have eased his placement in Mount Tahoma.
His interment there came about only with the help of PCMARVETS, a nonprofit organization led by former Marines that aims to help former service members receive benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Jim Pitcher asked members of the group visiting Eatonville a few months ago to “give his dad a ride” to the veterans cemetery.
The group has helped more than 300 South Sound veterans of all service branches file claims. This is its first case for a deceased veteran.
George Pitcher’s was an especially tricky case. Born in 1908, he served more than 30 years in the Navy, including assignments in World War II and the Korean War. He died in 1992.
By the time Jim Pitcher was ready to send his dad’s ashes to Mount Tahoma, the family could not muster up discharge papers or documents from the VA.
PCMARVETS service officer Erica Westling even struck out when she sought records about Pitcher’s time in the Navy from the National Personnel Records Center, the government’s clearinghouse of individual military records in St. Louis.
Finally, Westling received the barest confirmation of George Pitcher’s military service from the Washington Department of Veterans Affairs. The documents did not even say when he was discharged.
“We just wanted to get this guy buried,” she told the state agency.
In all that waiting, George Pitcher found a temporary home with retired Marine noncommissioned officer George Hight of Tacoma. Hight, a Vietnam veteran, kept Pitcher’s ashes at his home while Westling worked the claim.
“Just doing whatever is necessary to make sure George is properly interred,” Hight said.
They brought George Pitcher’s ashes to Mount Tahoma on Monday, and joined Jim Pitcher for a succinct service by retired Navy Chief Warrant Officer Joseph R. La Voie II.
George Pitcher received the final honors the Navy provides to all of its honorably discharged sailors: A rifle salute, prayer, taps and poems dedicated to deceased service members.
Sailors presented Jim Pitcher with an American flag in his father’s memory. Westling hugged him.
“I took care of my dad,” Jim Pitcher said before the service. “He took care of me for many years. Now it’s my time to take care of him.”Adam Ashton: 253-597-8646 adam.ashton@ thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/military