For those who served in the RVAH Community, their families, and friends!
NORTH HANOVER, N.J. – A veteran from Atco, New Jersey with no known family died alone, but he was neither forgotten nor alone Friday.
Roughly 1,000 caring strangers gathered for Peter Turnpu's funeral at the Brigadier Gen. William C. Doyle Veterans Memorial Cemetery in North Hanover.
Groups of veterans, government officials and others from South Jersey attended to show their appreciation for Turnpu's service to the country during the Vietnam War era and to ensure he wasn't buried as a forgotten former soldier.
One of those strangers is the director of LeRoy P. Wooster Funeral Home and Crematory in Atco, who not only volunteered to handle the funeral but arranged for Turnpu to be buried with military honors at the state cemetery and put out a call to the public to remember him.
"I thought handling his funeral was the right thing to do," said funeral director Wooster, adding he was overwhelmed by cemetery staff estimates on the number of people who turned out to honor Turnpu. Not everyone who attended was able to reach the graveside for the service because of the crowd size, he said.
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"It shows a great amount of support for our veterans. Everyone was pleased to see the number of people who came. They came together like one big family and the procession that began from a nearby church had more than 200 cars."
Wooster said he did not want Turnpu to be buried without anyone recognizing his service to the country.
"I thought he deserved more than that and that the community should honor him for his service to the country and recognize his death, so I reached out via social media — and the phone rang off the hook."
The funeral director said the 77-year-old man's lifeless body was found inside his home on Third Avenue in Atco on Dec. 9 by a neighbor who sometimes checked on him. After the neighbor called 911 and paramedics arrived to find Turnpu unresponsive, local police contacted Wooster, who agreed to pick up the veteran's body and began gathering information about him in preparation for a funeral service and burial.
"He had no one, and the neighbor told me he was a loner," Wooster said.
"There were veterans from all the armed services. I lost count of all the cars in the procession," said Kryn Westhoven, a state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs spokesman.
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He also said the department was "happy to have provided a proper and dignified burial" for the veteran.
© Provided Vietnam Veteran Peter Turnpu
Wooster said he determined through some documentation he gathered that Turnpu was an immigrant born in Estonia, arrived in the U.S. in 1955, became a citizen in 1963 and served in the Army from 1964 to 1966, including a tour in Vietnam.
He said the veteran was divorced, had no children and apparently lived in Atco for at least 40 years.
Others at the funeral became aware of the veteran's story by spotting it on social media this week.
Camden County Freeholder William Moen attended the funeral service Friday after hearing of Turnpu's story.
"It was an overwhelming sentiment for one of our county's veterans in a solemn sendoff," Moen said of the outpouring for the funeral.
“Unfortunately, this happens more than it should to veterans that have courageously and honorably served their country,” Moen said of Turnpu's circumstances at the end of his life.
"I think it is so important the community come together for him."
Moen's father, also a Vietnam veteran, has shared stories with him about how many veterans of that war were not welcomed home, celebrated or respected when returning from the unpopular war.
Members of the Warriors' Watch Riders motorcycle club, American Legion and VFW members from various counties were among those who came.
“We definitely want to honor him. No veteran should pass on alone,” Tony Meade, state coordinator for the Warrior’s Watch Riders of South Jersey, said.
Follow Carol Comegno on Twitter: @carolcomegno
This article originally appeared on Cherry Hill Courier-Post: Forgotten no more: Hundreds of strangers gather to honor veteran who died alone
Is great to hear these stories that sometimes pop up in the news media , especially Vietnam Vets as we were really blasted [ to put it mildly ] when we arrived back in CONUS ! !!!!!!!!!