An indigent veteran set for Glendale funeral mistakenly buried on Hart Island

RIDGEWOOD TIMES/Photo by Anthony Giudice

The city made a serious mistake for a veteran deserving of a proper burial.

The Queens County American Legion was set to honor and bury Russel Platt, a veteran who died with no next of kin, before it was discovered that he had already been buried in City Cemetery on Hart Island, commonly referred to the city’s potter’s field.

Platt was born on July 7, 1931, and served in the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War, from March 14, 1949, to Jan. 26, 1954. Having served in the armed forces, Platt was eligible for burial at Calverton National Cemetery and was to be laid to rest on Nov. 25 by the Queens County American Legion.

However, when the funeral director of the George Werst Funeral Home in Glendale — where the ceremony was to take place — went to pick up the body from the city morgue, he was told that Platt was had been buried on Hart Island.

“The body was unintentionally buried at potter’s field. When someone dies the examiner’s office has to hold the body to see if they are eligible to be buried at Calverton National Cemetery,” said Paul Schottenhamel, commander of the Queens County American Legion. “There was no money for a burial so they went to potter’s field. This is not the usual way for this to happen. It fell through the cracks; 99 percent of the time, it doesn’t happen.”

Schottenhamel expects Platt’s body to be exhumed and re-examined to make sure it is the correct one. This process can take up to several months to complete.

“I am heartbroken that this happened,” Schottenhamel said. “The reason that this program exists is to prevent veterans who are entitled to burial in a national cemetery [from ending] up in a pauper’s grave, but are buried with the honor they earned with their service.”

City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley, who supports changing the jurisdiction of Hart Island from the Department of Corrections to the Parks Department, also lamented the situation.

“Russell Platt selflessly served our country, and because he dedicated himself to fighting for our freedom, he should be honored in both life and death. He is worthy of a proper burial in the Calverton National Cemetery,” Crowley said. “Right now, potter’s field on Hart Island does not provide the proper burial procedures when honoring one’s life and service. This is why I continue to advocate for transferring jurisdiction and maintenance of the island from the Department of Correction to the Parks Department, which is better equipped to manage such operations.”

The Ridgewood Times reached out to the Mayor’s Office of Veteran Affairs for comment but had not heard back as of press time.

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