‘We were their family today’: Unclaimed vets laid to rest

Human Interest

Marine Corps vet Douglas Ray Walls, Navy vet Danny Joe Mendenhall honored

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — About 300 people paid their final respects Tuesday to Marine Corps veteran Douglas Ray Walls and Navy veteran Danny Joe Mendenhall. The veterans, who died within days of each other, had no family claim them when they died.

But Crystal Purdy-Newland made sure these Vietnam era veterans got the proper respect as they were laid to rest at the Willamette National Cemetery. Walls died September 30, Mendenhall on October 1.

“Unclaimed doesn’t mean unloved. It doesn’t mean there wasn’t any blood relatives,” Purdy-Newland said. “It just means perhaps their relationships didn’t exist.”

Crystal Purdy-Newland of the Lincoln Memorial Funeral Home organizes funerals for unclaimed veterans at Willamette National Cemetery, November 12, 2019 (KOIN)

Purdy-Newland, the funeral director for Lincoln Memorial Funeral Home, began holding funeral services for unclaimed veterans in 2009 through the Dignity Memorial Homeless Veteran Burial Program.

At first there were a handful of Patriot Guard riders who attended the services.

“I feel like over the last few years I’ve noticed the community wants to be involved in something bigger than themselves. They want to. They just don’t always know how.”

Tuesday’s funeral for Walls and Mendenhall drew hundreds of people to the Willamette National Cemetery on a rainy Portland day. So many people attended the service that not everyone could make it to the shelter.

“It was really overwhelming in a fantastic way,” she said.

One of those who attended was Karen Thyden, whose father is a veteran. She said she saw the notice posted on Facebook and had no idea what to expect and also described it as “overwhelmingly fantastic.”

“So wonderful to see so many people represent their families, their loved ones and just to be here for these gentlemen,” Thyden told KOIN 6 News.

A mixed honor guard rendered military honors and burial flags were presented to Patricia Lucas and Cyrus Faussete.

Lucas, a Gold Star Mother whose son Jeff was a Navy SEAL killed in Afghanistan in 2005, said it was an honor to receive Mendenhall’s flag.

“It’s an honor and it’s so nice. It’s more than nice. It’s redeeming for them to be remembered, all of them to be remembered with gratitude and caring,” Lucas said. “I’m just grateful and I’m so happy to be here today.”

Cyrus Faussete-Sadri, a 10-year-old in the Lewis & Clark Young Marines, said he has great respect for veterans “because otherwise we wouldn’t have the freedom to do this at all.”

He held the Walls’ flag after it was presented to him. “I was wondering what they looked like,” he said.

Purdy-Newland said she’s fortunate to have a relationship with the medical examiner’s offices and the Veterans Administration. When they have an unclaimed veteran, “they know that they can call me and I’ll be sure they receive a full service with military honors.”

These services are a reminder to be there for our veterans and for each other, she said.

About 300 people came to the Willamette National Cemetery to pay final respects to 2 unclaimed veterans who recently died, November 12, 2019 (KOIN)

“These services are perfect because it’s meaningful,” she said. “We’re not asking for money. We’re not asking for donations. We’re simply asking for time and people to come spend time together.”

And she paid tribute to Marine Corps veteran Douglas Ray Walls and Navy veteran Danny Joe Mendenhall.

“We are here to honor their service and their life. We are not here to place any kind of judgment. We’re not here to assess their lives or relationships in any way. They served our country honorably and we are here to stand for them as their family. That is what I wanted people to take away today.

“We were their family today.”

About 300 people showed up for the funerals for 2 unclaimed veterans at the Willamette National Cemetery, November 12, 2019 (KOIN)

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