Unclaimed veterans buried with dignity, thanks to strangers
The Associated Press
By: Adrian Sainz, Karen Pulfer Focht
January 20, 2019
Soldiers Arnold M. Klechka, 71, Wesley Russell, 76, and Marine Charles B. Fox, 60, were laid to rest in a service attended by about 700 people at West Tennessee Veterans Cemetery in Memphis on Thursday. There was a gun salute, and a bagpiper played “Amazing Grace.”
In this Jan. 17, 2019, photo, a retired U.S. Marine master gunnery sergeant salutes three Memphis veterans, Wesley Russell, 76, Arnold Klechka, 71, Charles Fox, 60, who died this past fall and whose remains were unclaimed, in Memphis, Tenn. (Karen Pulfer Focht/AP)
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — When the flags were removed from the caskets and folded with military precision, there were no family members there to receive them.
So, the banners were passed, hand-to-hand, through the crowd.
Some mourners wept as they clutched the flags briefly. Others kissed them. But the three veterans laid to rest on a rainy Memphis morning were strangers to most of those who gathered to honor their memory.
The service was part of a national effort by funeral homes, medical examiners, state and federal veterans' affairs departments, and local veterans' groups to pay final respects to members of the military whose bodies were not claimed by any relatives. Since 2000, Dignity Memorial and other funeral homes in more than 30 cities have organized about 3,000 funerals for soldiers, sailors and Marines who died alone, but still deserved a dignified funeral and burial, said Jeff Berry, Dignity's general manager in Knoxville.
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