Jerry Jerome Jackson died alone in a park in St. Paul, Minnesota, in the dead of a bitter and cold winter, but this week dozens of strangers inspired by his story came together to give the homeless veteran the send-off he deserved.
Jackson was living in a makeshift shelter in a park when he froze to death this February. Family members say the 58-year-old Marine Corps veteran suffered from schizophrenia and had difficulty staying in touch with family or maintaining a permanent residence.
In fact, when Jackson died in February in the midst of a bitter cold snap it took medical examiners weeks to identify him and locate family members.
In the days that followed, the Pioneer Press wrote several articles about Jackson’s life and unfortunate death.
“The guy had places he could go, but he just got to that place where, physically and mentally, he couldn’t go about his day-to-day life,” friend Nick Heidenreich told the newspaper. “He didn’t consider himself homeless; none of us did.”
Friends said they watched as Jerry spiraled deeper into mental illness, withdrawing from society and refusing any form of help. Despite receiving government benefits he was unable to pay rent and was evicted from his apartment, and began bouncing between homeless shelters and sleeping in shacks.
“It is so sad the number of veterans we see that are homeless,” said Brian Molohon, director of development for Union Gospel Mission where Jerry spent many of his nights. “More needs to be done for the men and women who lay it all on the line for us.”
The report noted that Jerry Jerome Jackson was a frequent visitor to Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church, which was about a mile from where he lived in the park.
“Some of us knew Jerry. We were saddened and shocked to hear of his death,” said Pastor Brian Scoles. “Truth be told, his death was tragic. We don’t have to pretend otherwise. Dying homeless in a park during a bitterly cold winter is sad and a tragic way to die.”
The news coverage prompted readers to give Jackson the burial he deserved. A local funeral home donated their services for free, and his church provided music and a memorial.
The United States Marine Corps Honor Guard also found out about Jackson’s death, and provided full honors at Fort Snelling National Cemetery in Minneapolis. There was even a 21-gun salute.
“This is overwhelming to me,” said Jerry’s brother, Don Jackson. “It’s overwhelming.”
Friends of Jerry Jerome Jackson said the funeral was a fitting tribute and say the outpouring of love — not his tragic death — is the best way to remember him.
[Image via Fox 9 News]