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Strangers at elderly U.S veteran's funeral.

Hundreds of Strangers Attend Abandoned U.S Veteran's Funeral

Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal and YouTube/ Central Maine
Uplifting News

Elderly Veteran Is "Abandoned" After Passing Away - So Hundreds of Strangers Do This

A funeral home put a desperate call out for attendees. The military community responded in the most heartwarming way.

When U.S. veteran Gerry R. Brooks died in a nursing home in Maine, he died alone. Forsaken and abandoned in life, he seemed destined to remain so in death.

That is, until hundreds of kind-hearted strangers who knew nothing about him dropped everything to stand in the sweltering heat of a summer afternoon just so they could say goodbye.

Strangers Band Together To Bring a Forgotten Soldier Home

Gerry R. Brooks obituary

Veteran Gerry R. Brooks obituary

Riposta Funeral Home

Brooks, 86, had only been living in the Glenridge nursing home for less than a week when he died. According to the Kennebec Journal he was diagnosed with brain cancer three weeks earlier.

For a month, his body lay at Riposta Funeral Home in Belfast, Main, waiting to be claimed. But no one came.

"No one claimed him or wanted to and where it's been over a month, it's not respectful to him to keep him here and it's why we decided to move forward with it," said Katie Riposta, director of the funeral home.

So she posted an obituary in the local papers and online, asking for volunteers to act as pallbearers.

It simply read:

"Gerry R. Brooks, 86 of Augusta passed away on May 18, 2024, at Glenridge in Augusta. He is a Veteran of the United States Marine Corps and has been abandoned at the funeral home since his passing. To respectfully lay him to rest a graveside burial will take place on June 20, 2024, at 12 noon at the Maine Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Augusta. If you would like to assist with being a pallbearer or simply attend please contact the funeral home at 338-1433."

Thanks to the power of social media, word quickly spread. Within minutes, the funeral home was inundated with calls.

Hundreds of people stepped up for a man they didn't even know. There were so many volunteers to carry his casket, the funeral home had to turn people away.

But it wasn't just people wanting to act as pallbearers. A bagpiper offered to play at the service. A pilot volunteered to perform a flyover. And veteran groups across the state pledged their attendance.

A Hero's Send-Off

U.S. veteran Gerry R. Brooks is buried with full military honors.

U.S. veteran Gerry R. Brooks is buried with full military honors. Dostie

At noon on a scorching hot day in Maine, Brooks was laid to rest with full military honors, surrounded by a sea of strangers dressed in various uniforms — from military to police to firefighters — and many bearing American flags.

The former marine was escorted on his final journey, a 40-mile drive from the funeral home to the cemetery, by over a dozen Patriot Guard Riders on motorcycles.

Once there, the sound of rifle volleys from a 21-gun salute echoed through the air, courtesy of members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

A number of veterans sang The Marines' Hymn as the casket went by and Loren Fields, a U.S. Army Veteran's bugler played Taps as Brooks was finally laid to rest.

"It's an honor for us to be able to do this," Jim Roberts, commander of the VFW in Belfast, told theAssociated Press.

"There's so much negativity in the world. This is something people can feel good about and rally around. It's just absolutely wonderful."

Little is known about Gerry R. Brooks.

One man, Neil Buck, who volunteers at The Bread of Life soup kitchen in Augusta told media that Brooks would often come in for a meal. Buck said from what he remembers, Brooks grew up in Maine on a farm and was widowed.

"Gerry was a hoot." Victoria Abbot, the Executive Director for Bread of Life Ministries added. "He was an 80-plus-year-old man that came to the soup kitchen every day with your quintessential same-old jokes. He was really great to have around."

“It sounds like he was a good person, but I know nothing about his life,” Riposta said, mentioning that after Brooks' death, a woman contacted the funeral home to share that he had once taken her in when she had nowhere else to go.

According to Jim Roberts, Brooks’ son, granddaughter, and son-in-law silently attended the funeral but did not comment on why they hadn’t stepped forward earlier.

Honoring Our Veterans

Despite the initial loneliness of his passing, Brooks was given the send-off he deserved, surrounded by people who honored his sacrifice and commitment.

While he may have been forgotten in life, this group of strangers ensured that he would not be forgotten in death.

Linda Laweryson, a marine veteran, read a poem during the graveside service. It summed it up best,

"I walked the old parade ground, but I was not alone. I walked the old parade ground and knew that I was home."

Thanks to the incredible outpouring of humanity, this marine did not have to take his final walk alone.

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