Approximately 3,000 strangers came to the funeral of a Vietnam veteran with no surviving family.
On Wednesday, strangers from Florida, Tennessee, and Iowa reportedly drove to a Michigan funeral for 67-year-old Wayne Lee Wilson, who died on May 28. The former truck driver “proudly” served in the military from 1971 to 1977, including during the Vietnam War, according to an obituary from the Brown Funeral Home & Cremation Services.
“He was passionate about helping his fellow wounded veterans and encouraged others to give to the Paralyzed Veterans Association,” read Wilson’s obit. “Mr. Wilson has no surviving relatives.”
The notice stated, “All members of the public are invited to attend to pay their respects for an American hero.”
Drew Mikel, a 20-year-old intern at Brown Funeral Home, wrote a press release about the service for the local newspaper. It landed on Facebook and was shared thousands of times. “I had never written a press release before, but I typed up something and sent it to our local paper,” Mikel tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “We were hoping just a handful of people would show up.”
Mikel says that when he drove Wilson’s hearse into the funeral, “a swarm of people parted.” He estimates that 3,000 people were in attendance.
"Dignitaries have funerals like this," Charlotte Andrews, Wilson’s friend of 20 years, who also co-planned his funeral, told the Detroit Free Press. "Who would have thought that a simple man with simple ideas and a simple way of life would have been able to have such an enormous amount of people to be able to send him off?"
She added that Wilson flew a flag on his motorized scooter and made a habit of decorating veteran gravestones with flags.
Wilson had a military service, including a 21-gun salute.
The mayor of Niles, Michigan, Nick Shelton, also attended the funeral. “General George S. Patton Jr. said it best: 'It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather, we should thank God that such men lived,’” Shelton said, according to WNDU. “Thank God for Wayne Wilson and thank you all for being a part of his legacy.”
Wilson’s friend Andrews tells the Detroit Free Press that the turn-out would have humbled Wilson. "He would have had his head in his hands, shaking his head, tears flowing down his face, and he would have said, 'Baby girl, what did the two of you do?'"
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