ST. LOUIS (KTVI) — Dozens of strangers honored a man they never knew on Thursday. He was a U.S. Navy Vietnam veteran who died at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis. 

No relatives or loved ones claimed him, so a new “family” did.  They laid him to rest with the honor he earned for serving his country.    

“We’re honored to show this veteran the respect that he earned,” said USAF Reserve Master Sgt. David Rogers, a project manager for BJC Health Care in his civilian job. “When people leave the military, the one thing they miss the most is those who served by their side. You never leave a comrade behind. That’s true even after we’ve hung up our uniforms.”

Barnes-Jewish has Missouri’s only Office of Decedent Affairs. There are fewer than 10 in the United States. The office conducted an exhaustive six-month search for loved ones after the veteran died in late 2021.  

Finding none, the staff organized a dignified farewell. Members of BJC’s Veterans Connection group formed a line of honor, saluting as the veteran’s cremated remains were escorted from the hospital campus by two dozen members of the Patriot Guard Riders.  

There was a procession to Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery for interment.  A chaplain provided a bible reading and prayers. Full military honors followed, including a gun salute, taps, and a flag presentation.   

“All veterans, they sign their names on a dotted line. They are committed to protecting our country to protecting our freedom. They all deserve a dignified burial,” said Neil “Nitehawk” Hill, of the Patriot Guard Riders.   

Members of the Patriot Guard Riders believe the veteran was in his 70s. He served from 1967 to 1972. Hospital staff released no further information, citing privacy laws. 

Chandra White, manager of the Barnes-Jewish Office of Decedent Affairs, accepted the veteran’s flag on behalf of a grateful nation and the veteran’s family, wherever they might be. She felt a bond.    

“Being in the health care industry, it was the first time I ever experienced someone who didn’t have anybody … to be able to support this veteran as all of us did today,” she said. “And to receive that flag, it’s very touching. All of us were very teary-eyed.”

The hospital will hold the flag in safekeeping in case loved ones should someday come forward.