I Rode With A Woman I Don’t Know To The Funeral Of A Veteran Neither Of Us Had Ever Met

Virginia Kruta, Associated Editor 

This morning, I rode with a woman I didn’t know to a funeral for a man neither of us had ever met — but today, we were all family.

My day began with a text message from my husband, a baker on his way to work, at 1:46 a.m. — which included a link to a local story about a veteran who was going to be buried alone at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in just hours.

The memorial service for Air Force Sgt. Robert Wunderlich was set for 10:00 a.m., and no known family members were going to be present, so the cemetery put out a call to the community and invited the public. (RELATED: Cemetery Invites Public To Funeral For Veteran Who Died Alone — Boy, Did They Show Up)

I parked just outside the gate at Jefferson Barracks a little after 9:30 a.m. and began walking the half mile or so to the ceremony’s location. Every road wide enough to accommodate a vehicle was packed with traffic extending off the property and onto the main road.

I was a little more than a quarter of a mile from the ceremony when a woman in her 70s driving a little red car rolled down her window and asked if I would like to ride with her.

“My name is Maggie,” she said as I got in the car. “I just heard about this on the news this morning, and I thought I should come. My dad is over there,” she added, pointing out the passenger side of the car.

“My dad is back that way,” I responded, pointing back toward the front gate at the section where my father, a retired U.S. Army captain, was buried two years ago. “Where did your father serve?”

And then her story came pouring out. “He was in the Navy, and he served on a Destroyer in the South Pacific. He’s not really over there,” she waved to the right again. “He’s somewhere at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean with his shipmates.”

“My father’s Destroyer was torpedoed by the Japanese in 1943,” Maggie explained. “I never knew him. He never even knew my mother was pregnant.”

Neither one of us said a word as she parked the car. (RELATED: Air Force Veteran Was Going To Be Buried Alone — St. Louis Had Other Ideas)

“I’m glad I came,” she said as she got out of the car and adjusted her scarf. “I’m so glad that so many people are here.”

 

With that, she disappeared into the crowd gathered around the flag-draped coffin.

Sgt. Wunderlich was buried with full military honors, surrounded by well over one hundred members of the local and military community — the “family” he had never met.

 

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