Twenty homeless veterans, whose bodies were left unclaimed in morgues around the New York City area, received a burial with full military honors Saturday at Calverton National Cemetery.
Michael Picerno, director at Calverton National Cemetery, said it was the largest collective ceremony of its kind nationwide for veterans left unclaimed after they’ve died.
“For whatever reason, their family and friends did not assist in their burial,” he said. “These veterans served our country and deserve this farewell.”
About 500 people gathered for the service, which included a procession of American flags set up by local fire departments, the folding of the American flag and the playing of “Taps.”
John Caldarelli, of American Legion Post 1244, gave the eulogy and read the names and ranks of the 20 veterans, who all served in the military between the 1940s and 1970s.
“We don’t know their race, political affiliation or their religious views,” he said. “Today, in a brief moment in time, we will be their family. We will be their loved ones.”
The folded flags were given to the American Gold Star Mothers, an organization of mothers whose children died after serving in the military.
Dignity Memorial, a Houston-based company, provided transportation for the services through its Dignity Memorial Homeless Veterans Burial Program. The program started in 2000 and has since provided services more than 850 veterans.
Members of the American Legion, the Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion Riders, Patriot Guard Riders, American Gold Star Mothers, Nam Knights Motorcycle Club, U.S. Veterans Motorcycle Club and Patriot Knights Motorcycle Club, as well as other groups, veterans and local elected officials met to pay their respects.
Ernest Diraffaele, of the VFW Post 395 in Saint James, said he hoped the event would bring more awareness to homeless veterans.
“No veteran should die alone,” he said.