SWATARA TWP., Pa. -- It's nicknamed 'The Field of the Forgottens,' and Suzanne Sheaffer wants to make sure people forget no more.
Sheaffer, an intern in the Dauphin County Coroner's office and Gold Star Mother, recently discovered the gravestone of a Frank Bakanus Junior. Bakanus, a Navy veteran of World War II, died in 1998. However, with no family to claim him, Bakanus was buried in the Dauphin County Cemetery at Potter's Field, alongside nearly 900 other unclaimed or unidentified bodies.
"This was truly, I believe, was guided from above," Sheaffer said.
Sheaffer became a Gold Star Mother on December 30, 2013, when her son, Billy, died unexpectedly while serving in the Coast Guard. While time heals wounds, the pain never subsides, and Sheaffer said she had trouble finding purpose after her son's untimely death.
It wasn't until three weeks ago, when she saw the Bakanus grave, that she says she found her calling.
"Mr Frank's angel wings and my son Billy's angel wings were definitely around me that day, and because of them, this all came to be," Sheaffer said.
On Thursday, dozens of people who never knew Frank Bakanus paid respects to the World War II hero at Potter's Field. Gold and Blue Star Families with the help of members of the Central Dauphin Football team laid seven wreaths to represent each uniformed branch of the military, seven more to honor all to-be identified veterans at Potter's Field, and one at the grave of Mr. Bakanus.
Sheaffer says discovering Bakanus' grave opened up a "lifelong mission" for her; take the 784 identified bodies buries at Potter's Field, and learn who served in the military. There is no idea how many veterans were laid to rest at the Dauphin County Cemetery, although Coroner Graham Hetrick estimates some bodies could date back to the Civil War era.
It was believed that Bakanus had no living relatives. However, after a FOX43 story aired earlier in the week, a member of the Bakanus family contacted Sheaffer. They wished to remain anonymous and out of the spotlight, but Sheaffer said they would be receiving a traditional folded flag in a private ceremony.
"I hope we've brought some peace to the Bakanus family as well," Sheaffer said. "He's our hero. He gave us our freedom."