MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Three veterans who bravely served our country were given a formal goodbye months after they died.
The soldiers’ bodies went unclaimed after their deaths.
It was a special event for the West Tennessee Veterans cemetery director, who said unclaimed veterans were once laid to rest with little acknowledgement, whatsoever.
“After experiencing the very first one, I came back to my office, put my head down, tears were running down my cheek and said, ‘Dear God, if you ever send me another unclaimed veteran, I will do a much better job with the resources you give me,’” James Lindsey said.
Little is known about 76-year-old Army Private Wesley Russell, 60-year-old Marine Staff Sergeant Charles Bradley Fox, and 71-year-old Army Specialist Arnold Martin Klechka.
What is known, though, was their love of country.
“We gather here today not because someone has died,” said Gary Taylor from Memphis Funeral Home. “We gather here today because someone has lived.”
Three men, three Americans, three heroes.
“Today we gather here to honor them, and we celebrate their selfless courage for accepting their country’s call,” Taylor said.
All three joined the military in their 20s and were honorably discharged.
While there weren’t any relatives present at Thursday’s ceremony, dozens of others gathered to pay their respects and show support.
“They're not unclaimed, I prefer to call them veterans without immediately family because we are their family,” one person said.
A military burial flag is customarily a gift given to the loved ones of a deceased veteran, but the moment these strangers stepped into the rotunda, they became family.
Each person in the crowd got a moment to hold the flag in prayer.
“Memphis supports their veterans, and these three, two soldiers, one Marine deserved, they earned this honor and I’m more than happy to be here,” one veteran in attendance said. “I don’t care if it’s raining, snowing, we’re going to be here for them.”
Army Private Wesley Russell died last September, and Marine Staff Sergeant Charles Fox and Army Specialist Arnold Klechka died a month later in October.