Submitted story by Nate Schaeffer
JCMVAMC Public Affairs
On Nov. 29, members of the local community gathered at Fort Gibson National Cemetery to pay their final respects to a man they did not personally know.
But they came to the cemetery to honor the man, because he was a Veteran and no Veteran should ever be buried alone.
The Veteran was Steven Ray Day, who served in the Army from 1975 to 1979 and achieved the rank of Private First Class. Day, who received his health care at the Jack C. Montgomery VA Medical Center (JCMVAMC), had no known family or relatives when he passed away on Nov. 23 at the age of 60.
When the American Legion Post 15 in Muskogee heard that Day had no next of kin, they asked local Veteran groups and the local community to gather at the cemetery to honor Day and render a final salute.
Approximately 30 people turned out for the service, which included members from the American Legion Post 15, Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 474, Patriot Guard Riders of Oklahoma, Fort Gibson Police Officers, 10 JCMVAMC employees and Fort Gibson National Cemetery staff members.
“I thought it was a tremendous response,” said Raul Rizo, an Air Force Veteran and member of the American Legion which served as the honor guard for the service. “It was a very patriotic gesture on the part of our citizens and it took effort, time, fuel and the plain old element of caring to be there. To me, it was very comforting and a reassuring feeling of patriotism in our community.”
John Perry, an Air Force Veteran and cemetery technician at Fort Gibson National Cemetery, accepted the burial flag on behalf of the cemetery since no next of kin were present. The cemetery will display the flag in their Avenue of Flags, which are flown inside the entrance of the cemetery on special days of significance such as Memorial Day and Veterans Day.
Bill Rhoades, the cemetery director, attended Day’s funeral service and said no Veteran ever gets buried alone.
“It is an honor for us to serve all of our Veterans here,” said Rhoades, a Coast Guard Veteran. “Whether we’re burying someone who is a highly decorated Veteran or whether it’s someone whose had 30 days of military service, they answered the call, did what their nation asked them to do and we do everything we can to pay them dignity and respect.”
JCMVAMC Chaplain Forrest Kirk, who officiated the funeral service, said he was touched by the turnout from the community and said it demonstrated that someone who served is never without family.
“We’re his family,” said Kirk, a Navy Veteran.