Homeless vet buried with full military honors

Homeless vet buried with full military honors

Jerry Black (Source: Berry Funeral Home) Jerry Black (Source: Berry Funeral Home)
Mourners gather to honor Black's service and memory. Mourners gather to honor Black's service and memory.

6 News Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - A local funeral home paid tribute to the life of a local veteran on Thursday.

But like too many in our country, the former Navy veteran wound up homeless after his days in the service, with no next of kin and no money to pay for a funeral.

Jerry Michael Black, 50, was found dead in a North Knoxville home on March 7, after a friend reported not seeing him for a couple of days.

The medical examiner ruled that Black died of natural causes.

The veteran grew up in foster homes in West Virginia and Arizona before enlisting in the Navy at age 18.

Although nobody at his funeral appeared to know him, he was buried with full military honors at the East Tennessee Veterans Cemetery Thursday morning.

"I love all veterans, and I'd do anything I could do to help all veterans," said Judy Lee, national director of the American Ex-Prisoners of War Organization.

In attendance were dozens of members from several area veterans' organizations.

"It's so sad, because I'm sure he had a hard life making the adjustment coming back from service," said Lee.

Jerry Black enlisted in the U.S. Navy, and served as an electrical and mechanical equipment repairman aboard the U.S.S. Norton Sound from 1980 to 1982.

"It was a very happy crew. He was lucky to have them for a family," said Eric Nash, member of the Fleet Reserve Association.  

Nash was also a former marine combat engineer, who says his company visited the U.S.S. Norton back in 1981.

"It is possible he met many Knoxvillians on the day while we were on board," Nash said.

The funeral brought Karen Strickland with the Maryville post of the American Legion Riders.  

Strickland said she's attended about a dozen military funerals, but says Black's funeral was the most emotional.

"Knowing this man didn't have the family he should have of here, and support him, and respect him for that," Strickland said.

There are an estimated 150,000 homeless veterans in the country, making up about 25 percent of the homeless population.

Thursday's service was handled by the Dignity Memorial Homeless Veterans Burial Program, which operates in 35 U.S. cities and has conducted more than 1,400 services for homeless veterans across the country.

Berry Funeral Home made the arrangements for Black's funeral.

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