A Vietnam vet with no close family died: Hundreds of people packed his Michigan funeral

“It said on Facebook he didn’t have any family," said one attendee, who traveled from Ohio. "He does have family — everybody that stepped foot in Vietnam is a brother.”

Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.
SUBSCRIBE
By Elisha Fieldstadt

When a Vietnam veteran without living family died, his friends arranged a public funeral, thinking maybe a small number of people would come.

But hundreds showed up Wednesday to the graveside service for Wayne Lee Wilson in Niles, Michigan, just north of the Indiana state line. They came from his town and around the country to a service that included bagpipes, a motorcycle procession and military honors performed by the American Legion.

“I only expected maybe even 12 people to show up … but this is hundreds. It's fantastic," Wilson's close friend Charlotte Andrews, who helped organize the funeral, told NBC affiliate WNDU in South Bend, Indiana.

Let our news meet your inbox. The news and stories that matters, delivered weekday mornings.

If Wilson could see the event, she said, “He would be looking down with his head in hands saying, 'Oh my God, what did they do?'”

Wilson was 67 when he died on May 28, according to his obituary. He served in the Vietnam War from 1971 to 1977 and "was passionate about helping his fellow wounded veterans and encouraged others to give to the Paralyzed Veterans Association," the obituary said.

In his later years, he used a wheelchair and worked as a truck driver.

Brown Funeral Home and Cremation Services, where Wilson's friends were carrying out his wishes for his funeral, posted the obituary on Facebook on July 11, inviting the public to "pay their respects for an American hero." The post quickly garnered attention from local media.

Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., and Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., were among those paying tribute to Wilson in the service at Silverbrook Cemetery.

Niles Mayor Nick Shelton and Michael Smith, a pastor, delivered eulogies, according to the funeral home. Three Niles florists provided flowers and chairs, and the police and fire departments helped to set up.

“When the Vietnam veterans came back themselves, they were not greeted very well themselves. So, just to see now how they're honored, it does my heart good just to see it," Andrews said.

“It said on Facebook he didn’t have any family," said Kenneth Creech, who traveled from Ohio. "He does have family — everybody that stepped foot in Vietnam is a brother.”