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Ashes of veteran of three wars found at St. Lucie home; background a mystery

NewsAshes of veteran of three wars found at St. Lucie home; background a mystery

ST. LUCIE COUNTY − The remains of a U.S. Navy veteran who served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam are expected to be laid to rest in May — more than four years after a man found them digging a home foundation, according to officials and records.

The St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office March 2 announced the remains of Oscar Howard McCaffity, 81, were collected by officials with the West Palm Beach VA Healthcare System. 

“We should honor all of our veterans and honor them because they did serve our country,” said Nancy Rufino, decedent affairs coordinator for the West Palm Beach VA Healthcare System. “We give them a good send off, whether they have family or not, we do honor each and every one of our veterans.”

The case of McCaffity, whom the Sheriff’s Office said died May 10, 2003, could be considered unusual.

What happened?

The Sheriff’s Office got involved in September 2018, when a man told investigators he found an urn with a memorial plaque while digging the foundation for a new home. The agency declined to identify who found it or say specifically where, but Sgt. Matt Brewster said it was on Spanish Lakes Boulevard.

Ashes were in the urn and the plaque stated McCaffity’s name, noting he was in the U.S. Navy and a WWII vet, records show.

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Investigators tried to find relatives of McCaffity, but determined his wife was dead and located no other known associates. No connections could be determined between McCaffity and Spanish Lakes Boulevard, Brewster said.

A detective at the time involved in researching the urn, Brewster said there was nothing else to go on.

“Unfortunately, we hit a roadblock from the very beginning,” he said.

The urn apparently has been at the Sheriff’s Office ever since.

Public records searches reveal addresses for McCaffity in Dixie County, and at least one on a street off Spanish Lakes Boulevard in the Spanish Lakes Fairways community in northern St. Lucie County.

‘We’re not unfamiliar with these type of cases’

Rufino said her office typically handles three to five unclaimed decedent affairs cases per year.

“We do get unclaimed veterans in our facility where they have no family members or no one presents themselves to claim them,” she said. “We’re not unfamiliar with these type of cases.”

She said McCaffity’s remains will rest at the 338-acre South Florida National Cemetery in Lake Worth, which opened for burials in 2007. 

A service May 11 is expected to be held “to honor these veterans who are unclaimed or have been recovered and have no one to claim them,” Ruffino said. A total of 18 veterans, including McCaffity, and three spouses, will be interred that day, she stated.

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Armed Forces members meeting a minimum active duty service requirement and “discharged under conditions other than dishonorable” can be buried in a national cemetery, records state. The cemetery in Lake Worth is the fifth national cemetery in Florida and the 125th in the national system.

Background unclear

McCaffity never received medical care at the VA, nor was he registered at a VA hospital, Rufino said. Because of that it’s tough to find his discharge papers, which would provide information regarding his military history. 

“It’s hard for us to obtain that information if the veteran does not provide us with that information,” she said.

She didn’t know McCaffity’s rank, but said it was determined he served in World War II and the conflicts in Korea and Vietnam.

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Rufino said he entered the service Sept. 1, 1942, about nine months after the surprise attack by Japanese forces on Pearl Harbor. 

He was discharged May 1, 1969, more than a year after the Tet Offensive in which Viet Cong and North Vietnamese forces launched coordinated attacks against a number of areas in South Vietnam.

Brewster said it’s not common for the Sheriff’s Office to recover urns of ashes, though said some others are in evidence. 

He said sometimes a person purchases a home unseen, via foreclosure or during cleaning stumbles across an urn. They turn it over to law enforcement thinking they might be able to connect it to someone.

Brewster said a deputy, who is a veteran, learned of this urn and suggested reaching out to the VA. 

Rufino said the Sheriff’s Office contacted her agency in February.

“We took immediate action on it,” she said.

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