Teen Eagle Scout organizes Villa Park memorial for 7 veterans whose remains have gone unclaimed

ByKaren Jordan and Megan Hawkins WLS logo
Sunday, June 18, 2023
Teen plans west suburban memorial for 7 vets with unclaimed remains
Eagle Scout Cooper Merrinette organized a veterans' memorial for seven whose remains have gone unclaimed in Villa Park, IL.

VILLA PARK, Ill. (WLS) -- There was a tribute on Saturday to honor several military veterans in the western suburbs.

The memorial, held to say goodbye to soldiers from both world wars and the Korean War, was all planned by 16-year-old Eagle Scout Cooper Merrinette.

He started the project after learning about unclaimed cremated remains of military veterans at funeral homes around the country. So he got to work, organizing Saturday's ceremony.

Cooper, born himself in Korea and adopted at 6 months old, felt a personal connection to the men who have long been gone, but not forgotten.

"I just felt that especially because one of these men was a Korean War veteran. Had it not been for them fighting for their freedom of this country that I myself, and many included, wouldn't have the chance to come to America," Cooper said.

He spent the last six months planning the ceremony for seven veterans whose cremated remains had gone unclaimed, and had been stored for decades at a chapel in Villa Park.

"He had to work with, I think, Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense. He had to get approval and send letters to next of kin, and then plan this entire ceremony out. He got his fellow scouts and the VFW involved," said Jeff Merrinette, Cooper's father.

Cooper even arranged for bagpipes, speakers and members of the local VFW to present the colors.

"Every veteran, whether deceased or not, deserves a military sendoff. They served our country, and our country owes them for their service. This is long overdue for these seven gentlemen," said EN1 Petty Officer First Class Dennis Jensen.

Francis Jensen attended the memorial.

"It has to happen for our veterans, that we give them a respectful burial. They've been forgotten for too long. It was very, very moving," Jensen said.

The village of Villa Park proclaimed Saturday as Veterans' Remembrance Day in recognition of Cooper's work.

"It's great to see a lot of young people get involved in the community. That's part of what makes this country so great, is honoring the past, remembering to live in the present, and looking forward to the future. He really did a great job, and we're really excited to be a part of it," said Funeral Director Shoesmith.

Cooper said the service project has taken longer than most other Eagle Scout ventures, but it's all been worth it.

"There was a lot of ups and downs in the project, but through it all, it was a really great learning experience. I truly believe this is an extremely respectful way to honor these veterans," Cooper said.

The veterans' remains will now be taken to Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Ellwood, where they will be interred with full military honors next week.

"He really surprised me. He's a kid, and you don't expect a 16-year-old to do that," Jeff said.