Special service for seven veterans

Sandra ClarkObits, South Knox

Berry Funeral Home is honoring seven veterans with burial with military honors at 10 a.m. Tuesday, Feb. 5, at the East Tennessee Veterans Cemetery. The public is invited, said Jeff Berry, funeral director and program coordinator.


Jeff Berry

“Since these men had no family in life, there will be brothers in arms to see them to their final resting place,” he said. Full obituaries are posted on Berry’s website. The state of Tennessee provided the burial plots, grave openings and closings, and markers.

Berry said the service is impressive – these will be numbers 61-67 since Berry’s joined the Dignity Memorial Homeless Veterans Burial Program in 2011 – but the full import comes when he returns after a month to view the markers. “These men won’t be forgotten.”

Berry has scheduled seven separate hearses to transport the remains to the cemetery. They will leave sometime after 9 a.m. Feb. 5 and proceed to the cemetery on Gov. John Sevier Highway. Berry will invite the Knox and Sevier county mayors and a minister to speak. The conclusion to each obituary reads:

“He will be laid to rest on Feb. 5, 2019, at 10 a.m. in the East Tennessee Veterans Cemetery with Military Honors. The public is invited to join as we claim this Veteran as our own and render honor to one whom honor is due. Services by Berry Funeral Home.”

Based on information from the website, the honorees are:

Specialist 4th Class Ronnie Joe Lundy, born Feb. 4, 1955, in Knoxville and raised in the Gibbs community. He enlisted in the U.S. Army Feb. 26, 1973, served for three years and was honorably discharged on Feb. 25, 1976, in Oakland, Calif. He passed away Jan. 18, 2019, in a house fire in Seymour.

Seaman Apprentice Robert Lee Baker Jr., born March 23, 1948, in Barbourville, Ky. He entered the U.S. Navy on March 23, 1965, in Knoxville and was discharged at the Naval Station in Philadelphia in 1966. He was assigned to the USS Springfield (CLG-7).

Specialist 5th Class (T) Charles Joseph Burnett, born Nov. 20, 1946, in Detroit. He was inducted in the U.S. Army on April 25, 1968, and served with the 55th Aviation Company, Eighth Army. He was honorably discharged Dec. 27, 1969. His wife, Angela Marie Burnett, born Feb. 12, 1946, and died May 15, 2017, will be interred with him.

Specialist 4th Class James David Ellis, born July 28, 1943, in Knoxville and died July 23, 2018, with no one to claim him. He served in the U.S. Army from March 16, 1967, to Oct. 26, 1968, with Battery C 6/37 Arty 2nd Infantry Division. He served over one year on foreign soil with the U.S. Army Pacific Command.

Specialist 4th Class Stephen Sebastian Cunningham was born Jan. 25, 1950, in Waynesburg, Pa., and entered the U.S. Army Sept. 24, 1970, in Pittsburgh. He was discharged Sept. 17, 1973, at Fort Dix, N.J. He was the recipient of the National Defense Service Medal, Expert Grenade and Sharpshooter M16. He died Dec. 27, 2018, with no one to claim him.

Pfc. James Michael Farrar, born Aug. 1, 1947, in Gary, Ind., died Oct. 2, 2018. He served in the U.S. Army with the 523rd Engr. Co. USARPAC from Nov. 15, 1966, to Nov. 3, 1968. He was the recipient of the National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal and the Vietnam Campaign Medal.

Sgt. Frank Harmon Wilson, born Aug. 22, 1941, enlisted in the U.S. Army in November 1969 and served 13 years and five months with Company B, 2/34th Infantry Battalion FORSCOM FC. He was a recipient of numerous awards including the Bronze Star Medal. Mr. Wilson died Aug. 3, 2018, with no one to claim him.

One man makes huge difference

In researching the origins of the burial program for homeless veterans, we turned up this story.

Bill Branson

Major General Bill C. Branson (USA retired) left small-town Missouri for St. Louis at age 17. He married two years later and joined the Missouri National Guard two years after that, during his mortuary apprenticeship. He served on active duty and in the reserves for over 38 years. He worked for 60 years with Hoffmeister Mortuaries, retiring as executive VP and general manager. And he was married for 71 years.

He established the Dignity Memorial Homeless Veterans Burial Program in St. Louis and expanded it nationwide with the support of Hoffmeister Mortuaries and Service Corporation International. Bill Branson was a guy who showed (rather than told) what he could do.

So, I would have interviewed him for this story. His program already has buried more than 3,000 homeless veterans nationwide. But Bill Branson died on Jan. 13. His own funeral service, with full military honors, was last week.

View all obituaries

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