By Mr. Ryan Thompson (Leonard Wood)July 7, 2016
When word got out that a Vietnam veteran was going to be laid to rest without any Family present in the Missouri Veterans Cemetery -- Fort Leonard Wood, the community rallied. They became his extended Family to pay tribute and honors to their fellow comrade June 29.
Retired Sgt. 1st Class James Matisheck recently passed away in Rolla, Missouri, and repeated attempts to contact his Family resulted in no response. However, the community stepped up and became his "Family."
It turned out that Matisheck's Family is considerably larger than one might suspect, as it was standing-room-only in the committal service shelter during his funeral service. There were Soldiers, veterans and community members in attendance. Most in attendance did not even know his name. That did not matter.
Matisheck served in the Army from the fall of 1965 to the summer of 1988. Several attempts were made by the Pulaski County administrator Loretta Rouse to contact Matisheck's Family, but she was never able to get a response. Rouse had to move ahead with making arrangements for Matisheck's funeral service.
When Gloria McBeth, a board member of the Assistance Association of the Missouri Veterans Cemetery -- Fort Leonard Wood and an American Legion Auxiliary member, heard that a veteran was going to be interred without Family present, she quickly got the word out to the surrounding community.
McBeth created an event on Facebook and invited everyone she knew. She asked those she invited to invite everyone they knew to the event.
"I don't ever want to hear of a veteran being buried with no one present to represent his Family," said McBeth, who stressed there were more than a dozen organizations represented at the funeral. "At this point, the community is his Family."
Second Lt. Traci Beri assigned to Company B, 701st Military Police Battalion, came to pay her respects and to give thanks for a veteran who served the country.
She said the Army is his extended Family. "I just think it is important to honor those who came before us. To honor the sacrifices they made. Even though they have passed, we know we are always a Family and always here to support," Beri said.
In addition to the community support, 12 Soldiers from Fort Leonard Wood provided Matisheck's service with military honors, which included an honor guard, chaplain and bugler.
"This is an opportunity for me, as a chaplain, to come out and pay my respects whether I know the service member or not," said Chaplain (Capt.) Jeff Crispin, who presided over the funeral. "(This is) To come out and to honor them, and honor their sacrifices on behalf of the nation, and to fulfill the promise the veteran received when he was living, from the country. It's the funeral team's and my honor to be able to come out and do that for our brother."
Staff Sgt. Christopher Melancon, 50th Multi Role Bridge Company, was a part of Matisheck's funeral detail.
He said it was important that the community come out to support and honor Matisheck.
"I think it is important because they (veterans) gave blood, sweat and tears to our country, and I know when I was a kid, they did it for my grandfather. It brought home to me that the country was repaying him for the service he gave to the country," Melancon said.
Speaking for the detail, Melancon said, "I know my Soldiers who are here, and the Soldiers I've had in the past on funeral details, take extreme pride in doing this for fallen Soldiers or veterans, because they know what they have been through, and it's just another way to say 'thank you' to them and their Families for their service to their country."
McBeth reflected on the importance of the community coming together in support of an unclaimed veteran.
"None of us knew who this person was. The matter of fact is that he was a veteran and he deserves the honor and respect to be given to them, so that's what we do. Each one of these veterans made an oath to protect me. It is the least I can do to say 'thank you," she said.