GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — While veterans put their lives on the line for others, many end up dying alone. That’s where volunteers like Mike Micele come in.
He’s a volunteer with the “No Member Dies Alone” program (PDF) at the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans.
Recently, he happened to go in early.
“When I got there, I took a hold of the guy’s hand and he passed within 20 minutes. And there was no one in the room. He was by himself,” Micele recalled with a hard swallow. “Like I told the chaplain, I don’t know what it was (that caused me to go in early). It was kind of like a push: ‘Put down the coffee, get off the couch and go.’ Pretty powerful.”
He and other volunteers have become family to the residents at the veterans home on the city’s northeast side.
“It makes me feel good because my family doesn’t come to visit me and at times I feel lonely,” U.S. Army veteran Rob Troost said of the volunteers.
“They gave so much for our freedom. That’s why we’re here. That’s why we have what we have,” another volunteer, Kim Flores, said. “And so many of them have no family and no friends. So we have to make sure that they’re not forgotten and that they know that they’re loved and cared for. So we all have to step up and do our part.”
This summer, word got out that no family members would attend James Kelly’s funeral. The U.S. Navy veteran of World War II died less than a month shy of his 93rd birthday. He lost his wife of 40 years in the 1980s and had no family in the area. West Michigan responded in force: Dozens of people attended the funeral.
Patriot Guard Assistant State Capt. Mike Myers was there. He said what he saw was a boost to his organization, which often escorts the remains of fallen soldiers and veterans.
“It shows that it’s not just a brother or sister standing for a brother or sister. The whole community is involved in that honor and respect, thanking that service member for their service,” Myers explained.
“Being brothers and sisters in the service, we have to remember each other in some way, otherwise you’re gone and you’re forgotten,” Troost said.
“No veteran should ever pass and not be honored for the service that they presented and provided for our country, ever. Can’t happen,” Myers said firmly.
West Michigan has proven it won’t.