Hundreds gathered to mourn a man they never knew as a Marine Corps veteran listed as “unclaimed” was laid to rest in Nashville last week, the Tennessean reported.
Lee Stokley, 69, of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, passed away at a nursing home in Ashland City on November 4. He was born on June 5, 1949 in Greenville, South Carolina, and served in the U.S. Marine Corps — during which time he completed a tour of Vietnam, his obituary read. He was set to be buried with military honors at the Middle Tennessee Veteran’s Cemetery on November 9.
While sifting through his paperwork, Bob Counter of the Cheatham County Veterans Service Office said that he and his staff learned that Stokley is considered an “unclaimed” veteran, meaning that he died with no next of kin.
“When we found out that he was considered an unclaimed veteran, which means he has no family, we wanted to make sure that he got claimed,” Counter explained.
He proceeded to post Stokley’s obituary to the Cheatham County Veterans Service office’s Facebook page, along with a request for “Team Cheatham, and especially our Veterans” to claim the soldier out of respect for his military service to the United States.
The post was shared over 50 times, and Counter noted that several others wrote their own posts about Stokley. This resulted in a huge crowd of supporters at the cemetery on the day of his burial, which Counter credits to the “power of social media.”
“It finally got to where we had this [crowd of] several hundred people here,” Counter said of the veteran’s funeral service. “No one knew Leo, but everyone honored Leo. We wanted to make sure he got his military honors, the recognition he deserves, and that he didn’t die alone.”
The Tennessee community came together Friday to make sure an unclaimed veteran would not be forgotten. https://t.co/v1UU7UC8BY— WPMT FOX43 (@fox43) November 12, 2018
“No veteran should ever be laid to rest without somebody being at the funeral,” Cheatham County Commissioner — and fellow Vietnam veteran — Walker Weakley told the Tennessean. “And he was a Vietnam veteran, so I feel like he was a brother of mine.”
Weakley was one of the hundreds that came to pay his respects to Stokley. He recited Psalm 23 during Stokley’s funeral service.
“‘Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil’… No telling the valleys of death we all walked through,” he said, highlighting a line from the Bible passage.
Counter noted the incomparable bond that veterans share, and that many were able to connect at the cemetery.
“It’s heartwarming, to me, to see people that didn’t know who this guy was and yet they took time from their day to come out and pay their respect,” he said.
“Especially around Veteran’s Day, it’s a special meaning to have that many people come out and pay their final respect to Leo. Some good comes [from] everything. Leo brought a bunch of people together that he never knew, but he never was without family.”