We don’t know much about Jim Lang.
We do know he was born Nov. 9, 1916 in Taos and that he died Aug. 11, 1989 at the age of 72 in Washington state. Documents state he was Native American and that he was a U.S. Army veteran who served during World War II from May 21, 1943 until he was honorably discharged at age 29 on Jan. 19, 1946.
What it wouldn’t say is that Jim Lang’s ashes were found in a box sitting in a Dumpster in Washington state.
“It’s uncalled for,” Lawrence Vargas of Taos said, “no matter who it is — and to top it off he’s a veteran.”
Vargas is post quartermaster of Fernández de Taos VFW Post 3259. At a November 2012 meeting of the western district of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Vargas said he was contacted by Washington state VFW Commander Krist Huesby III. Huesby told Vargas he had an unusual task for him: To repatriate the remains of a Native American military veteran from Taos.
Apparently, according to Krist, Lang’s final wish was to have his ashes scattered on Indian land in Taos.
The only information Vargas had at the time was what was written on the box: Lang’s name, the name of the mortuary where his body was cremated, his social security number, and the number assigned to the remains. Even more puzzling is how Lang’s ashes have remained undisposed for 24 years.
From there, Vargas said “I’ll take care of it.”
Two and a half weeks later, Vargas received Lang’s death certificate and later a letter containing his form DD214 record of military service. “But the letter we got said his records were burned in St. Louis when they had a big fire years ago,” Vargas said. “His records were burned but they sent an equivalent document indicating (naming) his place of birth: Taos, New Mexico.”
The documents state that his Indian name was “White Fang” and that his father’s was “Sam Rising Sun” and his mother, “Alice Silver Willow.” However, after Vargas contacted Taos Pueblo tribal officials, he said he was told there was no record of tribal affiliation here. The scattering of cremated remains in this fashion is also outside of Taos tribal traditions; members prefer a physical burial as soon as possible after death.
Vargas now has a problem. He is hoping that someone in the Taos community might recall Lang or his family, so that he can help find a final resting place for this Native American veteran.
“It gets me a little teed-off that his remains, from my understanding, according to the commander of the Washington state VFW, that the remains were given to him because they were found in a Dumpster. That’s uncalled for to begin with.”
Ultimately, though, Vargas said if no one comes forward he will bury Lang’s remains in his own family’s cemetery plot. “My concern,” he said, “is fulfilling his wishes, for his ashes to be spread in Taos.”
Another possibility is for him to be buried in the Santa Fe National Cemetery.
No matter what, Lang will receive full military honors.
“Every time I go and pass his remains, I say, ‘Mr. Lang, we’re coming one step closer to put you at-ease, and put you at rest. That’s my concern. He will have a place to be buried ... I’m just going to go with his wishes. He will have a family in Taos.”
Anyone with information about Lang or his family is asked to call Vargas at (575) 758-1066 or contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by regular mail 523 Upper Ranchitos Road, Taos 87571. Vargas is also asking for contributions toward burial expenses.
In any event, Vargas said he is hoping to have a burial ceremony sometime in the spring when the ground thaws.