ELWOOD – The people who attended their burial service Thursday did not know much about Quinn Fitzgerald and Herbert Odom.
But they knew they were veterans.
“We are here for two homeless veterans who we know little or nothing about. But we are here to give them their final salute,” Jack Picciolo told the gathering at Shelter C in the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery.
Picciolo, commander of Lockport Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5788, heads an effort to provide military honors to the burials of homeless veterans and those who, for other reasons, do not have family with them when they go to their graves.
Twenty people came to the burial of Fitzgerald and Odom, a good gathering on a sunny but frigid Thursday afternoon.
Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery Memorial Squad provided final honors, including a rifle salute and playing of taps.
“It’s hard to deny them the respect they deserve after having served their country,” said Jerry Terando, commander of the Morris Color Guard, which typically shows up for ceremonies such as this.
The service Thursday was like many others for Terando and others who came.
“We know very little about them,” Terando said. “They can come from anywhere around the country. This is a national cemetery.”
Fitzgerald and Odom were from Cook County. Fitzgerald, 54, was an apprentice seaman in the Navy during peacetime. He died Dec. 26.
Odom 70, was a lance corporal in the Marines during the Vietnam War. He died Nov. 25.
Those details were provided by David Kobak, funeral director at Chapel Hill Garden South Funeral Home in Oak Lawn. Chapel Hill provided caskets for the two veterans and brought them to the cemetery. It is part of the Dignity Memorial group of funeral homes, which provides the service for homeless veterans.
The only other information Kobak had was their birth dates.
“Everything is very, very limited because of their not having any family coming forward,” he said. “I have little to no information.”
Not all homeless veterans have such a service when they are buried.
“Usually, I’m the only one there,” Kobak said. “The flags are folded and presented to me. Once the services are over, we donate the flag to Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery to fly on their flagpoles because there is no family there.”
Helen Vancura, standing in for family, accepted one of the flags at the burial Thursday. Vancura is a volunteer – someone Picciolo can call on when he needs people for a funeral.
“I feel someone should be here. No one should go by themselves,” she said.
The flags folded Thursday also were donated to the cemetery.
Picciolo typically gets a one- or two-day notice when homeless veterans are brought to the cemetery. He has an email list he uses to seek attendees for the burial. When no one can come, the veteran has what is called a direct burial. Military honors are then given during a mass burial ceremony held every three months.
Anywhere from 40 to 90 veterans have been honored at the mass burials, Picciolo said.
“Our intent,” he said, “is that we get to a point that we don’t have a mass burial – that we go out to all of them individually. But it’s impossible. There’s too many.”
For those who do come, it’s important that they do.
Roland Boguszewski with the Patriot Guard Riders, another group that regularly sends people to the burials, said honoring the homeless veterans is a way of serving. His father fought on D-Day in World War II, and three of his children were in the military, Boguszewski said.
“To not let our homeless veterans, who are disassociated from their families, spend their last day on Earth alone is, I think, very important,” he said.
If you are interested in attending burials for homeless veterans, contact Jack Picciolo by email at email@example.com or by calling 815-919-7507.