Updated: Monday, 28 Dec 2009, 8:45 PM MST
Published : Wednesday, 18 Nov 2009, 10:03 PM MST
ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) - It took two weeks and nearly $500 before the Veterans of Foreign Wars could get Bernalillo County to give up the remains of an indigent war vet so he could receive a military funeral.
And while county officials said they were only complying with the law, VFW members are steamed over what it took to retrieve the ashes World War Two veteran John Lott.
“I've never met the man,” VFW spokesman Fred Ortiz said. "I never met Mr. Lott."
Neither did other VFW members who only learned of Lott when his caretaker called about a funeral.
“He deserved to be buried under honorable conditions,” Ortiz said.
Although Ortiz did not know Lott, his ashes sit on a cabinet in Ortiz's office waiting for the military funeral at 1 p.m. Friday at the Santa Fe National Cemetery.
Getting to this point, however, hasn’t been easy. Lott died last month at the Veterans Administration hospital in Albuquerque.
“He had died without leaving any funds to bury himself," Ortiz said. "He had no family here locally."
So the county took responsibility for the veteran and had him cremated.
After Lott's caretaker called Ortiz began planning the funeral. But when he called the county to get Lott's remains, the nonprofit group was slapped with the cremation bill.
“You have to pay $485," Ortiz said. "I said, 'Can you discount this for us?' and I explained to them who I was and what I was doing."
Ortiz said the county told him it could not release the remains
until the fee was paid even though Ortiz had informed them that
Lott was a war veteran.
“The law is real clear that we are responsible, and the individual must pay if they decide to claim them later,” Bernalillo County Manager Thaddeus Lucero told KRQE News 13.
It took the VFW two weeks to come up with the money. If the VFW had not claimed Lott’s remains, after two years he would have been buried at an Albuquerque cemetery with other unclaimed people.
The war veteran would not have been given a head stone or military services.
“I'm upset because he is a veteran,” Ortiz said, “He deserves to be buried properly.”
After News 13 brought the issue to county officials, they said they feel the same way as Ortiz.
“They are veterans, and they need to have a proper burial," Lucero said. "It's something that we weren't aware of."
The county said it plans to start working with the state to make it possible for indigent veterans get an appropriate military funeral.
Lott retired from the Air Force after serving 25 years in the military.