Frank Howard died recently at 71 with no family, money or much else to his name except a record of Navy service – but that was enough to get him a proper burial.
The Sacramento County resident was laid to rest with full military honors Thursday with the help of the Dignity Memorial Homeless Veteran Burial Program, which provides free funeral services for veterans who die homeless, indigent or without family. The program operates in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, local coroners and public conservators, and volunteers.
Dignity Memorial is a brand name for more than 1,800 funeral homes and cemeteries in the United States and Canada owned or licensed by Service Corporation International. The company has provided free death care for more than 1,000 homeless, indigent and abandoned veterans in 35 U.S. communities since 2000, according to a Dignity Memorial website.
Mr. Howard, who joined the Navy at 17 and served almost three years, was the fifth Sacramento-area veteran buried through the program, said Marc Reichert of Reichert’s Funeral and Cremation Services. The Citrus Heights funeral home, which began offering the service this year, prepares the body and supplies a free casket, transportation to the cemetery and other funeral services. A grave site, marker and burial in a national cemetery are provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
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“These are people who served their country,” Reichert said. “They deserve much more, but this is the least that we can do.”
The funerals typically are brief but solemn affairs attended mostly by veterans groups and color guards. Reichert’s has received assistance from the Marine Corps League Detachment No. 940 in Folsom and the Patriot Guard Riders.
“We’ve had some pretty good turnouts – from 10 or 12 people to about 60 people,” Reichert said. “People who never knew the deceased just show up to pay their respects.”
Although honored in death, Mr. Howard was largely anonymous in Sacramento. Born Oct. 30, 1941, he joined the Navy in February 1959 and served honorably until December 1961. Indigent and without any known relatives, he died Oct. 17 of natural causes, according to Reichert.
A friend, David Corona, said Mr. Howard was a regular at the Amvets Capitol Post 1 center near Florin Road and Stockton Boulevard. He said Mr. Howard served in the Pacific in the Navy, was previously married and lived in in a group home in Sacramento for the last 14 years.
Mr. Howard never acknowledged having any family, and friends could not find any relatives after he died, Corona said.
“He had both legs amputated, but we never found out if that was due to diabetes,” Corona said. “It’s sad. He served his time, and nobody knows anything about him.”