US Marine Veteran Dies Alone, but Not Forgotten

Heading south toward Shuri Castle, a 1st Marine Division patrol passes through a small village which had been unsuccessfully defended by Japanese troops. (Credit: Department or Defense Photo (USMC))

Gerry Brooks was one of our nation's heroes. A Marine - I have it on good authority from friends who served in the Corps that there are no former Marines, only Marines who are no longer on active duty - Gerry was a widower, apparently with no family, and when he passed away at age 86 in a nursing home in Augusta, Maine, nobody showed up to claim his body or make funeral arrangements.

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But it didn't end there. The funeral home posted a notice asking if anyone in the community would be willing to serve as a pallbearer, or even to attend his funeral. The response was overwhelming.

 Former U.S. Marine Gerry Brooks died alone at a nursing home in Maine, abandoned and all but forgotten. Then the funeral home posted a notice asking if anyone would serve as a pallbearer or simply attend his burial.

Within minutes, it was turning away volunteers to carry his casket.

A bagpiper came forward to play at the service. A pilot offered to perform a flyover. Military groups across the state pledged a proper sendoff.

Hundreds of people who knew nothing about the 86-year-old beyond his name showed up on a sweltering afternoon and gave Brooks a final salute with full military honors Thursday at the Maine Veterans’ Memorial Cemetery in 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 paid tribute with a 21-gun salute. Volunteers held American flags alongside the casket while a crane hoisted a huge flag above the cemetery entrance.

It's heartwarming that the community, veterans and non-veterans alike, turned out to honor this man who served his country and who died, alone and forgotten. But when it came time to mark his passing, his community - his country - responded.

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The VFW post in Belfast was one of the groups involved.

“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.”

He said the VFW is called a couple times a year about a deceased veteran with no family or with one that isn’t willing to handle the funeral arrangements. But “we will always be there.” Like other veterans helping out Thursday, he hadn’t known Brooks.

It does renew one's faith in humanity, but there's a cautionary element to Gerry Brooks' tale.

There are thousands of nursing homes around the country. In those homes are thousands of residents. It makes one wonder, how many other veterans like Gerry Brooks are out there, abandoned and alone, living without any family to visit them, to sit with them, to share their last months and days. If there is one more like Gerry Brooks, that's one too many. While it's wonderful how the community turned out to commemorate the veteran, it would have likewise been wonderful if someone had alerted the community before he died and spread the word that this Marine, this hero, was in the home, alone and unloved.

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We don't know the whole story of Gerry Brooks, of course, other than the sparse details in this story: He was 86, widowed, alone, and in poor health. And now we never will know. But it's a lesson. We should value the veterans of our nation, as well as the elderly in general. They connect us to our past; they are part of what America is today.

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