Marine Veteran Dies Alone in a Nursing Home. But Then Came His Funeral.

What do we owe those who served? 

Former U.S. Marine Gerry Brooks was 86 years old and alone when he entered a nursing home in Augusta, Maine. A week later, he was dead. When his next of kin was contacted, they declined the offer to take his body and bury it.

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The funeral home director posted a notice asking for pallbearers and perhaps a a few people to pay their respects and honor the former Marine.

The response was phenomenal.

Within minutes of posting the notice, the funeral home was turning away volunteer pallbearers. 

A bagpiper came forward and offered to play. A pilot said he would perform a flyover. An honor guard was formed made up of veterans from across the state.

And hundreds of people who never heard of Gerry Brooks came to the funeral. He received full military honors Thursday at the Maine Veterans’ Memorial Cemetery in Augusta.

It was 40 miles from the funeral home in Belfast to the cemetery in Augusta. Brook’s body was escorted the entire way by Patriot Guard Riders on motorcycles.

“Members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars paid tribute with a 21-gun salute. Volunteers held American flags next to the casket while a crane hoisted a huge flag above the cemetery entrance,” reports the Associated Press.

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“It’s an honor for us to be able to do this,” said Jim Roberts, commander of the VFW post in Belfast. “There’s so much negativity in the world. This is something people can feel good about and rally around. It’s just absolutely wonderful.” 

Roberts said Brooks’ son, granddaughter, and son-in-law came to the funeral but did not speak during the service. Maybe they felt guilty about not doing the job of burying their dad themselves. We shouldn’t judge because we don’t know all the facts and circumstances. Perhaps that’s the way Brooks wanted it.

More than 8 million of the U.S. veterans living are 65 or older, almost half the veteran population. They are overwhelmingly men. That’s according to a U.S. Census Bureau report last year. As this generation dies, it said, their collective memory of wartime experiences “will pass into history.”

Much about Brooks’ life is unknown.

He was widowed and lived in Augusta. He died on May 18, less than a week after entering a nursing home, Riposta said. A cause of death was not released.

So many groups wanted to participate in the funeral service that there wasn’t enough time to include them in the 20-minute service, said Katie Riposta, the funeral director who put out the call for help.

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The crowd on Thursday wasn’t all strangers — and it turned out Brooks hadn’t been one, either.

Victoria Abbott, executive director of the Bread of Life shelter in Augusta, said he had come every day to eat at their soup kitchen, always ready to crack “dad jokes” and make the staff smile. He had a favorite table.

“Your quintessential 80-year-old, dad jokes every day,” Abbott said. “He was really great to have around. He was part of the soup kitchen family.”

Another former Marine read a poem at the grave site “written by a combat Marine who reflects on the spot where Marines graduate from boot camp,” says the AP.

“I walked the old parade ground, but I was not alone,” the poem reads. “I walked the old parade ground and knew that I was home.”

Rest in Peace and Semper Fi.

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