Hundreds Attend Stranger's Funeral After Plea

Nursing home's request for former Marine Gerry Brooks in Maine was heard
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jun 20, 2024 2:29 PM CDT
Hundreds Attend Stranger's Funeral After Plea
Former Marine Gerry Brooks is laid to rest at the Maine Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Augusta.   (AP Photo/Patrick Whittle)

Former US 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, per the AP. 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 next to the casket while a crane hoisted a huge flag above the cemetery entrance. Some saluted while filing by. Others sang the Marines' Hymn. "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." So many groups volunteered to take part in paying tribute that there wasn't enough space to fit them into the 20-minute burial service, said Katie Riposta, the funeral director who put out the call for help last week.

  • About him: Much about Brooks' life is unknown. He was widowed and lived in Augusta. He died on May 18, less than a week after entering a nursing home, Riposta said. A cause of death was not released. The funeral home and authorities reached his next of kin, but no one was willing to come forward or take responsibility for his body, she said. The VFW's Roberts, who did not know Brooks, said the vet's son, granddaughter, and son-in-law came to the funeral but did not speak during the service.
  • A non-stranger: The crowd on Thursday wasn't all strangers—and it turned out Brooks hadn't been one, either. Victoria Abbott, executive director of the Bread of Life shelter in Augusta, said he had come every day to eat at their soup kitchen, always ready to crack "dad jokes" and make the staff smile. He had a favorite table. "Your quintessential 80-year-old, dad jokes every day," Abbott said. "He was really great to have around. He was part of the soup kitchen family."
(More uplifting news stories.)

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