Strangers attend funeral of veteran with no close family

Kalamazoo and Battle Creek

ROSS TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — A Vietnam veteran who had no family come forward to plan his funeral received an outpouring of support at Fort Custer National Cemetery.

Dozens of strangers attended Jim Cook’s service Friday morning.

Dozens of strangers attended the funeral for Vietnam veteran Jim Cook at Fort Custer National Cemetery on Feb. 21, 2020. Cook had no close family.

According to friend Michael Berryhill, Cook was a pilot in the U.S. Air Force and spent four years in Vietnam.

Berryhill says Cook had a Ph.D. in ballistic science and a vibrant sense of humor.

An undated courtesy photo of Vietnam veteran Jim Cook.

“All these people came out, did not know Dr. Cook at all, and they stepped up and came here and supported him and it’s wonderful,” Berryhill said.

They became friends nearly 30 years ago when they both worked at Brillcast in Wyoming.

“He was a corporate facilities manager there and became my boss and we just met, we just clicked together and became good friends,” Berryhill said.

Dozens of strangers attended the funeral for Vietnam veteran Jim Cook at Fort Custer National Cemetery on Feb. 21, 2020. Cook had no close family.

They eventually became like family and when no next of kin came forward to plan Cook’s funeral, Berryhill and his wife Tia did not know how they could pull it off. The service was conducted flawlessly with the help of the community.

“It was more than I could have imagined,” Tia Berryhill said.

Jim Cook’s friend, Michael Berryhill and his wife, Tia on Feb. 21, 2020.
Jim Cook’s friend, Michael Berryhill and his wife, Tia on Feb. 21, 2020. (Feb. 21, 2020)

Ofield Funeral Home in Grand Rapids, Fort Custer National Cemetery and the Wyoming Police Department made the service possible.

“That they would be willing to do this and in such a short time frame and pull this all together was so amazing,” Tia Berryhill said.

Dozens of strangers attended the funeral for Vietnam veteran Jim Cook at Fort Custer National Cemetery on Feb. 21, 2020. Cook had no close family.

Barbara Hibiske never knew Cook but was honored to be part of the ceremony by serving in the honor guard.

“A lot of veterans were out here,” Hibiske said. “And just people that came out to respect his sacrifice for our country.

Michael Berryhill says the service and final resting place in the cemetery was exactly what Cook wanted.

“This was one of his wishes,” Michael Berryhill said. “To make it come true, it’s a blessing.”

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