Ever attend the funeral of someone you don’t know? Yesterday I did so and it affected me greatly.
I don’t mean it was a long-ago friend of my husband’s or one of my kids’ teachers. This person was not related to me or acquainted with anyone I know.
Why would I attend a funeral for someone so distant from me? Because he was a Vietnam-era veteran with no family.
James Beavers served 1963-1966– it was not in Vietnam but the specs of where he served are unknown. Here is the obit from D.O. McComb & Sons Lakeside Park Funeral Home:
James Beavers , 74, passed away Monday, November 23, 2015 in Fort Wayne. He was a US Army Vietnam-era War Veteran. He has no surviving family. Funeral Service is 2:00 pm, December 17, 2015 at – D.O. McComb & Sons Lakeside Park Funeral Home, 1140 Lake Avenue with calling from noon until service time. Burial in Riverview Cemetery, Churubusco, Indiana with military honors.
Reporters uncovered other tidbits of information about Mr. Beavers:
He was a disabled Vietnam War Veteran, who held the rank of Private. He was an orphan, originally from Marion, Ind. He was never married, and never had children. He was honorably discharged. Where he worked (if he worked) after the war is a mystery. As the Brits say, ‘He kept himself to himself.’
After 3 weeks of searching for family to claim Mr. Beavers’ body for burial, no one came forward.
The Allen County coroner finally gave up. Thankfully, a local funeral home offered to conduct a funeral for Mr. Beavers and invited the public to attend to show their respect for him and his service.
Estimates of possibly (I’d say probably) more than 1,000 people – many from out of state—were there.
People of all ages attended the funeral. A woman I would suspect was close to 90 years old sat in front of me. A family with a baby sat beside me. Lots of teens were there, which was refreshing, as well as dozens of law enforcement and military groups. It was crowded but everyone was patient and kind.
The funeral lasted about 45 minutes. People prayed and a woman sang a beautiful rendition of ‘Amazing Grace’. There were even bagpipes.
The internment with military burial was in a town about 45 minutes away. From news reports apparently many people attended that as well.
Keep in mind it was the middle of a weekday a week before Christmas. Everyone there, including me, probably still has shopping to complete for next week.
Obviously, we all felt it was worth our time to show respect for this veteran that had no social connections. None of us had anything to gain by being there.
As part of a military family, it was a privilege to honor Mr. Beavers by attending his funeral. I don’t know how he would have felt about it, had he known thousands of complete strangers would walk past his casket, most stopping for a moment and many adding a salute.
Hopefully, he would have been okay with that.
Still, it bothers me to think we may still have vets forgotten and feeling they are unappreciated. It may have been the way Mr. Beavers wanted to live, though it could not have been healthy for him to be behind doors much of his later years of life.
Perhaps people did try to reach out and were rebuffed. Perhaps things happened to Mr. Beavers while in military service that disturbed him so much he could not deal with people after the war.
Having had the privilege of interviewing a few Vietnam vets, I’ll say that I wish that period of American history could be re-written.
I wish we would have treated our vets more respectfully. As one Vietnam veteran I stood next to in line for viewing told me, “When I got off the boat in San Francisco, I didn’t know Americans protested our part in the war. That changed as soon as a man spit on me.”
This veteran went on to say he made it easier for the spitter to spit in the future (draw your own conclusions).
But he added that he went to Vietnam because in this country people are allowed to protest.
It was not prudent or, in my opinion American, for the protester to spit on a soldier, but he was afforded the opportunity to stand on the street and publicly acknowledge something about our government he didn’t agree with because our government allows him to do so.
I repeat, that’s freedom. It’s not something every country offers in this world and I’m proud of our nation for still offering that freedom today 50 years later. I don’t take that for granted and hope you don’t either.
I just wish all of our vets could find peace with our responses to their service.
I’ve said it before and I’ll keep repeating it. Thank a veteran. Better yet, go see him/her and make an effort to be their friend or at least someone who shows respect for their military service.
If any veteran reads this, please know the family of this writer appreciates what you have done for our country.