Community turns out for WWII veteran’s funeral

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — When the word went out that no family members would attend James Kelly’s funeral, Arthur Vachon responded.

“He’s a veteran, I’m a veteran, so I thought it would be a good idea to come out and show my support,” Vachon, who served in the U.S. Army, said.

Kelly, a U.S. Navy veteran and a resident of the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans for nearly seven years died Aug. 15, less than a month shy of his 93rd birthday.

He had lost his wife of 40 years back in the 1980s. With no family in the area able to attend, the home put out the word through veterans groups and social media. People responded.

The Patriot Guard was there at the veterans home cemetery for the funeral, along with the Kent County Veterans Honor Guard and the Grand Rapids Fire Department. And there were dozens of everyday citizens, most of them total strangers.

“It’s heartwarming that this many people would come out and support this gentleman,” Vachon said. “We were all able to grab flags and stand in honor of him. That just means a lot to me as a veteran.”

According to the National World War II Museum, of the nearly half of a million surviving World War II veterans, we’re losing about 350 each day.

There were 26 World War II Veterans at the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans at the beginning of the year.

“We now have 11. We’ve profoundly lost a good core of our community,” veterans home Chaplain Bruce Kalish said. “The history dies with them. Hopefully we can retain some of that through the conversations we have while they’re alive, and hopefully we can pass that on to the next generation who needs to know and needs to remember.”

While Thursday’s message was about honoring and remembering members of the greatest generation, there was another message: Don’t wait to bestow those honors. The veterans home is always looking for volunteers.

“Then they can not only receive the blessing of our life, as input to them and the fruit of our life well lived, but also, we receive the benefits of their life,” Kalish said. “They have so much to give to us.”

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