Solemn moments on Tuesday as a community honored the lives of some of its veterans. The event, tinged with an emotional weight that’s somehow different from the sorrow we expect from a funeral. These East Tennesseans faced homelessness in their lives or for whatever reason, the remains were unclaimed.

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“There’s no reason in the world why there should be a homeless veteran. None, not at all and it’s got to be fixed. It’s got to be fixed,” said U.S. Navy Veteran, Joe Drach.

It was silent as East Tennesseans somberly welcomed home seven veterans to their final resting place at East Tennessee Veterans Cemetery off Governor John Sevier Highway.

“Out of respect and as a veteran we have to be there,” said Linda Culbertson, whose husband, Lowell Culbertson, served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War.

One by one, the remains of these soldiers were carried by two Honor Guard members, along with an American flag, into the small chapel at the cemetery.

“There are some very, very special people here today,” said U.S. Navy, Vietnam Veteran, Garry Freese.

During the funeral service, prayers and scripture were shared. “It’s a big welcome, a long time coming,” said U.S. Army, Vietnam Veteran, William Shular.

Many remembering the sacrifices that were made by:

  • Sgt. Frank Harmon Wilson, U.S. Army
  • Sp5 Charles Joseph Burnett, U.S. Army and his wife, Angela Maria Burnett
  • Sp 4 (T) James David Ellis, U.S. Army
  • Sp 4 Ronnie Joe Lundy, U.S. Army
  • Sp 4 Stephen Sebastian Cunningham, U.S. Army
  • Private First Class James Michael Farrar, U.S. Army
  • Seaman Apprentice Robert Lee Baker Jr., U.S. Army

“To actually witness it, it was very moving. Very moving,” said Mrs. Culbertson.

“I had to guard General Creighton Abrams, he was over Vietnam. We’d stand out front of his office every day and at the end of the day, me and my buddy would have to take the flag down and fold it like they did,” said Mr. Culbertson.

There were powerful and heartfelt moments during the funeral service.

“When they’re playing taps, the tears come down. That’s a special moment each and every time,” said Freese.

Veterans who came to this memorial service say it was breathtaking seeing the community honor those they didn’t know, but ensuring their service wasn’t forgotten.

“May be sad to say this and why we’re here, but it’s just a beautiful day,” said Shular.

“Come to a military funeral and just experience the love and compassion for our troops and just say ‘thank you’ when you see a veteran,” added Freese.

The American flags used in Tuesday’s funeral service will be going to East Tennessee Junior ROTC programs so that members can learn how to properly fold the flag.

Back in 2011, Knoxville’s Homeless Veteran Burial Program was created. To date, more than 50 veterans, who experienced homelessness, have received the funeral service they so deserve.