The Washington Post reports that every year, tens of thousands of Americans die alone — no funeral services, no one to shed a tear for them.
According to funeral directors interviewed by The Post, thousands of these deceased are military veterans, especially veterans of the Vietnam War. Speaking of Vietnam veterans in 2012, President Barack Obama stated: “You were often blamed for a war you didn’t start. … You came home and sometimes were denigrated when you should have been celebrated. It was a national shame.” Now in their 60s and 70s, the final indignity: Many of these veterans die alone and forgotten.
Fortunately, many volunteers across the country are showing up at burial ceremonies for veterans. Linda Smith of the Missing in America Project, which helps arrange funerals for unclaimed veterans, noted these individuals are often “estranged from their family. They die alone. They commit suicide. … They don’t have anyone to mourn them — that’s what we do.”
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs stated (reported in The Post) that last year 1,752 unclaimed veterans were buried in the 150 veterans cemeteries run by the federal government. An unknown number of unclaimed veterans were buried in state-run veterans cemeteries.
Regardless of one’s political views and interpretations of the Vietnam conflict (or any other war), the dictum of Vietnam Veterans Against the War is worth remembering: “Honor the warrior, not the war.” We must honor all deceased veterans with a respectful burial and a heartfelt farewell.
George J. Bryja