Dozens of strangers attend Marine veteran's funeral in Houston

By Rose-Ann Aragon - Reporter

HOUSTON - When word got out that one Marine veteran may be buried alone, dozens of people from all over the state came to make sure he received the respect they said he deserves.

Gary Memmelaar, who was 73 when he died, in Vietnam in the Marine Corps.

"The one thing to be thankful for is that we standing here have life -- the privilege of breathing air," said the pastor to about 100 attendees at Houston National Cemetery on Friday.

It was a special moment when people from all walks of life traveled to pay their respects to a man who served this country.

"I never knew the gentlemen, of course, but with the service of our country that he did serve, you got to honor him for it," Robert Hall, a World War II Navy veteran, said.

Hall is one of the dozens of people who attended who never knew Memmelaar. Co-workers of the veteran worried he'd be buried alone. But when the veteran community heard about the funeral, word spread. 

"It was great to see this. It kind of went viral, and it's great to see the large and strong veteran community come together," Sean Bear, of the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association, said.

Dozens gave their time and hearts to a stranger. The funeral service was crowded.

"This is the biggest turnout I've ever seen," Cheryl Whitfield, with the National Memorial Ladies, said.

"He was a brother. That's all there is to it," Vincent Moreno, a World War II veteran, said.

"I hope they never give up supporting the servicemen because they're very vital to this country," Hall said.

To many people's surprise, Memmelaar's son attended.

"In the final days, our relationship was estranged and we didn't spend time together, and so we didn't get to have any real closure, and we didn't have a chance to say goodbye," Greg Memmelaar, the veteran's son, said.

On Friday, however, with the help of prayer and support, Greg Memmelaar was at peace.

"(My father) gave me my name, and today each one of you is helping me honor our name, so I thank you for that," Greg Memmelaar said to the crowd of people who attended.

The once-lone veteran was buried with an abundance of gratitude.

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