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A US veteran has died at an abandoned nursing home. Hundreds of strangers came to say goodbye

AUGUSTA, Maine: Former U.S. Marine Gerry Brooks died alone in an abandoned and nearly forgotten Maine nursing home. The funeral home then posted an ad asking if anyone would serve as a pallbearer or simply attend his funeral.

Within minutes, he was refusing volunteers to carry his coffin.

A bagpiper came to play at the service. A pilot offered to fly over. Military groups across the state promised a fitting send-off.

Hundreds of people who knew nothing about the 86-year-old beyond his name turned out on a sweltering afternoon and gave Brooks a final salute with full military honors Thursday at Veterans Memorial Cemetery from Maine from Augusta.

Patriot Guard Riders on motorcycles escorted his hearse on the 40-mile route from the funeral home in Belfast, Maine, to the cemetery. Members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars saluted with a 21-gun salute. Volunteers held American flags near the casket, while a crane hoisted a huge flag over the entrance to the cemetery.

Some waved as they passed. Others sang the Mariners’ Anthem.

“It’s an honor for us to be able to do this,” said Jim Roberts, commander of the Belfast VFW post. “There is so much negativity in the world. This is something people can feel good about and rally around. It’s just absolutely wonderful.” He said Brooks’ son, niece and son-in-law came to the funeral but did not speak during the service.

Roberts said the VFW gets calls a few times a year about a deceased veteran with no family or one who is unwilling to handle funeral arrangements. But “we’ll always be there.” Like other veterans who helped out Thursday, he hadn’t met Brooks.

So many groups volunteered to take part in the tribute that there wasn’t enough space to fit them into the 20-minute funeral service, said Katie Riposta, the funeral director who launched the appeal for help last week past.

“It renews your faith in humanity,” she said.

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

Not much is known about Brooks’ life.

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

The funeral home and authorities reached out to his next of kin, but no one was willing to come forward or take responsibility for his body, she said.

“He seems like he was a good person, but I don’t know anything about his life,” Riposta said, noting that after Brooks’ death, a woman contacted the funeral home to say he had taken her sometime when she didn’t. had another place where you go, no details.

“It doesn’t matter if he served one day or made his military career,” she said. “He still deserves to be respected and not alone.”

Thursday’s crowd wasn’t just foreigners — and it turns out Brooks hadn’t been one either.

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

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

But most people there met him too late on Thursday. The memorial book posted online by Direct Cremation of Maine, which helped arrange the funeral, had well-wishes from strangers.

“Sir,” one began and ended with “Semper Fi.”

The other two, a couple, thanked Brooks for his service. “We all deserve love, kindness and respect when we are called home. I hope you lived a life full of love, kindness, dreams and hope,” they wrote.

They added: “Thank you to all who will make this gentleman’s service a well-deserved farewell.”

Linda Laweryson, who served in the Marines, said this was the second funeral in just over a year she has attended for a veteran who died alone. Everyone deserves to die with dignity and be buried with dignity, she said.

Laweryson read a poem during the graveside service written by a combat Marine reflecting on the place where Marines graduate from boot camp.

“I walked the old parade ground, but I wasn’t alone,” the poem reads. “I walked onto the old parade ground and I knew I was home.”

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