When someone dies, their funeral is an opportunity for their family and friends to grieve while celebrating the person’s life. Funerals for US military veterans are especially poignant, with special customs and formalities, from the flag-draped casket to taps played on the bugle.
After Glenn Shelton died on November 26th at the age of 68, he had earned that sort of full military send-off. He was a former Marine who served in Vietnam and even received a Purple Heart.
He was an American hero—and yet, he apparently died completely alone.
When the deceased Shelton, originally from Louisville, was brought to Indiana Funeral Care, they knew nothing about him.
“Essentially, we have date of birth and his last known address and that is essentially it,” general manager Sara Thompson told WTHR.
They couldn’t contact any family members, but they did discover Shelton’s impressive military record. They sadly discovered that the vet passed away completely isolated and alone—but he didn’t have to go out this way.
“He fought for us so we could stand here today,” Thompson said.
“So I thought, he was abandoned in life at some point but we don’t want him to be abandoned in death.”
As a decorated veteran, Shelton’s funeral was eligible to be paid for by the military, and the people at Indiana Funeral Care set a venue for the service. But they were worried no one would show up for it.
So, they spread the word, hoping that fellow veterans and good-natured Indiana locals would show up and pay respects for a stranger instead of letting him go unmourned. They reached out to local veterans groups and news affiliates to spread the story.
And the response was more than they ever expected.
“Since the story’s aired, we have had numerous calls and emails and walk-ins that just wanted to be part of the service,” Thompson explained. “The outpouring has been amazing.”
“It’s amazing to see how many people still want to come and pay their respects to someone they don’t even know.”
A Marine veteran offered to deliver a eulogy. Another woman wrote a poem for the deceased and asked if she could include it in his casket.
The outpouring of support was so huge that the funeral home had to choose a larger venue, Allisonville Christian Church, to accommodate all the guests.
On the morning of December 16th, the church was completely packed. The funeral of a man who died alone was now standing-room only.
Michael Venne, a member of the Patriot Guard Riders, knew what this story meant—not just to fellow veterans, but to Americans in general:
“There’s people that want to make sure our veterans are honored and get the respect they deserve,” he told WTHR.
“They don’t want him to go alone.”
“I think this was wonderful today,” Russell Pryor, the Veterans of Foreign Wars District 11 Commander, told WFLA.
“I mean, to see every place out here, looking around, being filled with people who just have a love in their heart because of a service that he did for us and for this country.”
Amidst the hundreds of strangers, there was in fact one person who knew Shelton personally: his old friend Roy Ladd, who lost touch with Shelton years ago but wanted to pay his respects—and was stunned at the crowd size.
“When I came here for Glenn, I was expecting to be the only person here that knew him,” he told WFLA.
“I was just totally shocked at all the people that showed up.”
The circumstances around Shelton’s death are upsetting, but it speaks to the goodness of people that this community agreed to take the time to pay their respects and make sure he wasn’t alone.
Glenn Shelton may be gone, but the memory of him and his incredible sacrifices to his country will live on in the memory of these strangers.