Dozens of strangers hold emotional funeral for homeless veteran

Dozens of strangers hold emotional funeral for homeless veteran

CHEROKEE COUNTY, Ga. — Dozens of mourners gathered for the funeral of a local veteran of the Vietnam War, but not a single person was a member of his family.

On Wednesday, Channel 2's Berndt Petersen was at the Georgia National Cemetery in Cherokee County, where fellow veterans honored the former Marine they had never met.

Each year, more than 2,000 veterans are laid to rest at the cemetery. On Wednesday, it was former Marine Corps Lt. Richard Lindsay Butterfield.

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"We know nothing of his childhood. We know nothing of his high school days. We do not know if he had any siblings," the chaplain said.

There was no family, and there were no photographs.

"We can't find no record of this man for 53 years. That's almost my entire life. How does that happen in America?" said Delayne Davis with the Patriot Guard.

Butterfield’s last years were quite tragic.

"He died penniless. He died homeless, and he died alone," the chaplain said.

It happens all too often to former service members who slip through the cracks.

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"This is the second one this year. We did about six last year.  And it is sad," funeral director Greg Hall said.

Most who gathered were fellow Vietnam veterans.

"We're it. We make sure he goes with the only honor and respect we can give him," said Tom Cissell with the Patriot Guard.

Some of the mourners served more than a generation after Butterfield.

"To hear when a service member, a veteran, doesn't have anyone to come to their funeral and show respect, I wanted to make sure someone was here," Marine Keith Nicely said.

There were people by the dozens to honor a man they never knew.

"He will never lie alone again,” the chaplain said.

The Georgia Memorial Park Funeral Home in Marietta and a group called the Dignity Memorial Network provided the burial.

They will put the flag that was draped over Butterfield's casket in safekeeping. They hope one day, someone in his family will come for it.