Homeless veterans get heroes’ funeral

Chicago Sun-Times

Homeless vets get heroes’ funeral

BY EMILY NGO Staff Reporter, Chicago Sun-Times, Wednesday, August 17, 2005

From the procession of uniformed officers to the solemn rendition of taps, the double funeral Tuesday of U.S. Army veterans Harold Beison Jr. and Charles Mason was like any other with military honors.

But as both men were homeless veterans, no family or friends attended to receive the American flags lifted from their coffins and folded into triangles. Instead, Norwood Park community representative Jim Del Medico accepted the task.

“It’s quite an honor,” said Del Medico, a 75-year-old Korean War veteran. “A lot of veterans have been neglected.”

About 60 individuals from the Army and various veterans and community groups gathered at Kolbus Funeral Home, 6857 W. Higgins, to salute the men.

Beison, 66, and Mason, 63, were destined for “pauper’s graves” until the Dignity Memorial Homeless Veteran Burial Program stepped in to handle funeral arrangements. They were buried instead in Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood.

Died months ago

The men were two of about 270,000 homeless veterans in the United States. Some soldiers returning from the war in Iraq are already finding themselves without homes, said Elvin Carey, 73, a Korean War veteran with the American Legion of Illinois.

“Without our program, if no one has claimed their remains, veterans would be buried without military honors,” said Michael Rominski, funeral director for Kolbus. “It’s great that we have the resources, that the [U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs] can contact us.”

In the program’s two-year existence, about 23 homeless veterans have received military funerals.

The bodies of homeless veterans can sometimes lie months in wait at the medical examiner’s office for friends or family members to claim them. Beison and Mason died in March and April, respectively, but were not buried until Tuesday.

Not much known about them

It is usually through medical records that unclaimed remains are found to be those of veterans, said Jim O’Rourke, senior Army instructor at Senn High School.

Other than the fact that they served in the Army, little is known about the military careers or lives of either Beison or Mason. But to those who honored the men at their funeral, it didn’t matter.

“I respect them whether they’re homeless or not,” said Oyuterdene Amarbayar, 17, a Junior ROTC member at Senn. “They once fought for our country. The reason we’re living right now may be because of them.”

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