Line snakes out the door for funeral of Ill. veteran who died without family

ELGIN, Ill. (WLS/CNN) - About 500 mourners packed an Illinois chapel as people came to pay their respects to a Vietnam War veteran, whose family couldn’t be found for his funeral.

Virtually none of the people at 71-year-old John James Murphy’s funeral service Wednesday in Elgin, Illinois, ever met him. Many of them came simply after learning he was a Vietnam veteran who seemingly died alone in December.

“It’s a sad thing when a man like that finds himself in a situation where he’s got nobody. But then he has all of us. We’re all brothers in being veterans,” said Vietnam veteran Barron Buchunas, who attended the service.

Many of the mourners accompanied the hearse to the cemetery. Firefighters and first responders saluted along the route during the long procession.

Dan Symonds, the owner of Symonds-Madison Funeral Home, is a veteran who served six tours, so he was determined to make sure Murphy was honored and remembered for his service. The funeral home put out a call Monday for others to join them in paying their respects.

“They teach us in the Army [to] leave no one behind,” Symonds said. “I’m not leaving John behind. He’s my brother. He’s not only my brother in arms, even if he is Air Force; he’s my brother now... I have made him part of my family.”

Murphy was a jet engine mechanic in the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam War and earned numerous medals. He spent his final years at River View Rehab Center, where they say he talked of his service proudly.

The veteran reportedly had relatives, including at least one child and multiple grandchildren, but officials were not able to locate any surviving family members. He had a falling out with his family years ago, according to staff at the rehab center.

Symonds says the outpouring of support for Murphy was “overwhelming.” He hopes the story of how others joined together to say goodbye to the veteran will find its way to his family, and he’s willing to do the same thing for other veterans.

“Any veteran, unclaimed veteran, send them to me,” Symonds said. “I will make sure they get buried. I don’t care if I have to pay my own money out of it. I will do it.”

Copyright 2020 WLS via CNN. All rights reserved.