‘A beautiful tribute': Thousands attend funeral of Vietnam veteran with no surviving relatives

Around 3,000 people attended the funeral in Michigan of a Vietnam veteran with no surviving relatives, in what the funeral home called “a beautiful tribute.” 

Wayne Lee Wilson, of Niles, Michigan, was 67 years old when he died on May 28, according to his obituary on Brown Funeral Home and Cremation Services' website. His funeral service was on July 17. 

“Wayne proudly served in the Army from 1971 to 1977, during the Vietnam War,” the obituary said. “He was passionate about helping his fellow wounded veterans and encouraged others to give to the Paralyzed Veterans Association.” 

Pastor Mike Smith, of Niles, delivered the eulogy and said in his remarks to the attendees, “You refused to let a warrior be buried alone.”

Petra Bernard, of the Osceola American Legion Post 308, told WNDU-TV that “we honor every veteran.”

“We found out that this particular veteran does not have any family; and as color guard, we honor every veteran,” Bernard said. “Every veteran deserves to have their military rights, so we made sure that we came out here to pay our respects to this soldier.”

Close friend Charlotte Andrews, 62, of Niles, knew Wilson for nearly 25 years, the South Bend Tribune reported.

“I don’t think he met anybody who didn’t end up being a friend,” Andrews told the paper. “He really had a heart of gold.” 

Wilson, who many called “Sarge,” was also known to be the first person to arrive at the cemetery for Memorial Day services, the Tribune reported.

“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 told WNDU.

Andrews also told the Tribune that if Wilson could see the tribute he received, “he would be in tears.” 

“We are just totally overwhelmed,” she said. “Kenny and I just wanted him to have military honors. None of us were expecting this.”

A representative of Brown Funeral Home said the tribute was “phenomenal” and a testament to the community. It also  reminded her of “what being an American was all about... honoring those who served and not letting them be forgotten.” 

As a wounded Vietnam veteran, Wilson lived life in a wheelchair, the station reported. 

Andrews helped care for him through his health problems, the Tribune reported. She told the paper that Wilson died unexpectedly during surgery to fix the defibrillator in his heart. 

This story was reported from Los Angeles.