In the military life, no man is ever left behind. This remains true even when that man is laid to rest.
Military personnel and civilians alike gathered together at the Missouri State Veterans Cemetery in Waynesville yesterday, August 24, to honor a fallen Naval hero.
This particular Navy officer, Chief Storekeeper (SKC) Arthur “Bill” Craft, passed away earlier this month, having served for 20 years in the United States Navy. Craft had no family in the area, and his elderly sister was unable to make the trip, so the community stepped in to honor someone who would have otherwise had no one to see him off.
When a veteran such as Craft passes away, with no one to say goodbye as they are laid to rest, the Assistance Association of the Missouri Veterans Cemetery (AAMVC) ensures they receive a proper farewell. Virgie Mahan, president of the AAMVC, sends out the call, along with other volunteers, to bring the community together.
“In the military community,” Mahan said, “no soldier, airman, or marine is left behind, ever. You are never alone, you are brothers in arms.”
Once word is received about a veteran passing without family, Mahan said they use social media to reach as many people as possible. The ceremonies held for these veterans are visited by the Patriot Guard Riders, as well as veterans and civilians from the surrounding community, with as many as 200 people attending to honor those that have passed.
Mahan said she still remembers one of the first ceremonies held for a veteran without family.
“It was several years ago,” she began. “Ashes were found in a storage locker in Dent County…It just so happened there was a form with the ashes, showing it was a veteran who was honorably discharged.”
Following the discovery, Mahan said officials from Dent County contacted the Missouri Veterans Cemetery regarding the ashes, which were found to be at least ten years old.
“Any family there was had disappeared,” Mahan said. “There was a service and that was the first one we did. There were a few of us there and it was lovely. It was a total service, the color guard, the honor guard, the flag folding, the entire service was as though there 300 people there.”
Arthur Craft’s service was attended by a squad of the Patriot Guard Riders as well representatives from the other branches of Military service. Craft’s ashes were carried in, and a flag-folding ceremony was held along with a sermon from a military chaplain.
The chaplain opened with a prayer, encouraging attendee’s to “Take a moment to mark the passing of a fellow sailor and retired veteran who left us with an example of service to God and country through his dedicated years of naval service.” The chaplain called Craft’s service, “an example other’s may look to.”
Charles Baxter, Director of the Missouri State Veterans Cemetery, also spoke, and placed three rounds in a small pouch next to the ashes, representing Duty, Honor and Country.
“We have no formal policy of what to do when we have a veteran who has no family, or a family that is homeless that we inter here. But our informal policy is that no veteran has a service at this cemetery without someone to see him or her off. When we have a veteran who has no family…we put the call out to the community and ask them to come together so we can see this individual off on their final journey.”
Lloyd Rathgeber, Ride Captain with the Patriot Guard Riders spoke after Craft’s ashes had been laid to rest in one of the cemetery’s memorial walls.
“It’s a total honor for us to always pay tribute to a fallen hero,” he said. “Today though, is a special case when you have an unaccompanied Vet. We never want to see somebody go alone.” Rathgeber said he was “amazed at the turnout”, and thanked the community as well as the representatives from Fort Leonard Wood for participating.
“This was outstanding,” he said.
For any fallen veteran to be interred without family present, the AAMVC and the Missouri State Veterans Cemetery are always ready to put out the call and bring people together, making veterans receive the honor they deserve.
“I believe it goes back to that military philosophy,” said Virgie Mahan, “that a soldier, airman, or marine is never left alone no matter what the circumstances are, whether it’s a battlefield or in the community.”