Bob Elrose signed up to serve in the Vietnam War for one reason.
“I’m an American,” the 63-year-old Riverhead resident said, plainly.
It is that same patriotic spirit that has made the former Marine sergeant join a special group of veterans who regularly attend funerals of fellow soldiers buried at Calverton National Cemetery.
Once a month, the cemetery holds a No One in Attendance or NOA ceremony for service members whose funerals were not attended by either friends or relatives. The ceremonies are held at 10 a.m. on the second Wednesday of each month at the cemetery.
“Unlike the reception we [Vietnam veterans] got when we came home, I feel that someone should go to these funerals,” said Mr. Elrose, who is a member of the Vietnam Veterans, Chapter 11 and the Patriot Guard Riders, a motorcycle organization made up mostly of Vietnam veterans that regularly attends ceremonies for U.S. soldiers of any age. “Some of these veterans just outlive their family and friends and there is no one there for them and now there is; we’re now their family, and the group seems to be growing as word gets out.”
Calverton Administrative Supervisor Nanette Furio said the cemetery handles roughly 6,000 – 6,500 burials a year. The overall number of veterans being buried at Calverton has caused the cemetery to increase their land space to accommodate all the burials of soldiers with or without those living to remember them.
The cemetery conducts about 20 NOA services each month, according to Ms. Furio. NOA ceremonies are held in Calverton’s committal area, where funeral services are held for all soldiers of any rank and branch of service.
Roughly 50 people turn out each month for NOA ceremonies, Ms. Furio said. The services consist of a eulogy, the reading of the decedent’s names, ranks and branch of service, guest speakers and the playing of TAPS by a lone bugler.
Each branch of service takes turns attending NOA ceremonies. Members of the Vietnam Patriot Guard and Patriot Guard Riders are also in regular attendance at the ceremonies, which are open to the public.
The idea for the NOA ceremonies came five years ago, when Calverton employees began to notice that some veterans were being buried without a service or even anyone to show up for the burials.
“We began to realize that so many veterans were not receiving military honors at their committal service,” Ms. Furio explained. “That first month in 2005 we had 14 veterans to honor and we’ve had as many as 40 a month. We just want to make sure that every veteran is remembered and that no one is forgotten and we’re really hoping to get the word out there so that more people attend so that each one of them will be given the proper military honors and respect they deserve for serving our country.”
Louis DiLeo is the official bugler for the NOA services. The Seaford resident is Chief Bugler for the New York State Military Officers Honor Guard.
While he feels deeply privileged to play TAPS at the NOA ceremonies, Mr. DiLeo can’t help but feel sad, he said, that the veterans being honored are without close friends and loved ones to share in their remembrance.
“The fact that they did put on the uniform, the fact that they did serve their country, and to go out there and honor these soldiers, sailors, airmen, whoever they are, is a great privilege,” Mr. DiLeo said. “It’s sad that no one they know is there. We don’t know why, nor necessarily do we want to know it, but it is a sad thing, whether they’re indigent or just estranged from their families, whatever the reason, the flag is on their coffin and they deserve that respect from all of us.”