Hundreds of people brave the cold to honor a veteran of Vietnam who died with a few known family members | Military

Hundreds of people gathered Tuesday in the cold of Omaha National Cemetery to pay tribute to a veteran of Vietnam, who died apparently alone.

A line of cars extends from the cemetery along Highway 50 to Interstate 80 at 2 pm Tuesday, the scheduled start time for burial. People in military fatigues, veteran jackets, and Vietnamese civilian clothes invaded the hill, waiting almost in silence to honor a 73-year-old veteran whom they did not know.

Private First Class Stanley C. Stoltz was a private man. He served his country in Vietnam, but his military service did not stand out among countless others. But when the news spread that he could be buried alone and without family, a wave of support grew, resulting in a crowd of more than 400 people at the cemetery, two years old.

"This is the first time we have this kind of crowd," said Padre Roy Edwards before the ceremony. "Most have between six and eight cars, fifteen at the most. It's hundreds. "

The rallying cry began with a funeral announcement in The World-Herald. Mike Hoy, director of the Good Shepherd Funeral Home, said that he had first learned that Stoltz had no living family at his death on November 18. The opinion became viral and attracted national support, particularly from Jake Tapper, CNN.

"There was a family that eventually came forward," said Hoy. "The support provided was great. It's just an honor.

Stoltz's brother, Keith, attended the funeral, but refused to talk to the media. Members of Endless Journey Hospice also attended the service.

"He would certainly be affected," said Amy Douglas, who works for Endless Journey and said she knew Stoltz.

Stoltz was born on May 29, 1945 and grew up on a farm in Curlew, Iowa. He had three brothers and a sister and friends in northwestern Iowa and Bennington.

These friends remember him as a hard worker and a typical farm boy.

"Stan was the kind of guy who could jump on any equipment and make it work," said former Bennington Mayor Bill Bohn, who lived a quarter mile from Stoltz and l & # 39; 39, later employed as a mason.

Stoltz was enlisted in the Vietnam War. Friends do not remember to tell him about his visit abroad.

Upon his return, he worked for an International Harvester Dealer in Emmetsburg, Iowa. He lost an eye shortly after his return from Vietnam, said Bohn.

After that, Stoltz moved to Bennington, where he married Pamela Muhleka in 1974. Pam died of cancer in 1984.

"She really messed it up when she died," said Laurie Olsberg Shields, who grew up in Curlew with Stoltz and lived in front of him in Bennington.

Stoltz came back to Curlew, she said, she remarried, then divorced. He has never had children.

At Curlew, Stoltz takes care of his mother until his death. He spent some time in a retirement home after that, said Bohn, then returned to Bennington. He moved and was in and out of retirement homes before he died.

After reading his burial notice in the newspaper, Shields spoke to former classmates and encouraged them to attend the funeral.

"It's a shame that it did not happen sooner when he was alive, he was contacted by people," she said. "It looks like he could have used a friend."

But on Tuesday, Stoltz made hundreds of new friends.

"There's an old adage that nobody likes a veteran like another veteran," Mark Macko, the cemetery representative, told the crowd. "This has certainly been shown today."

Dennis Schissel, president of the local Vietnam Veterans of America, said the funeral for Vietnamese veterans usually attracts between 150 and 200 people, the crowd being mostly made up of veterans.

"We are meeting for something like this," he said. "He was one of us at that time."

At the end of the ceremony, the flag placed at the top of Stoltz's coffin was folded and handed over to Dick Harrington of the Final Salute Society. Stoltz's family refused his flag on Tuesday, but they still have time to claim it. If the flag is not claimed, it will remain at the cemetery and be flown on Memorial Day, Harrington said.

"I was very moved," Harrington said. "The fact that so many people cared about him, maybe three-quarters of them were veterinarians, they just wanted to be here."

Mary Rosenthal, one of the participants, said that she was attempting to attend the burial of all destitute veterans and those whose families were small or non-existent. She began doing this in May 2017 when she attended the funeral of US Navy Donald Stark, a Vietnam veteran who died at age 68 with no known family.

"It made me think there must be more than him," she said. "So, I have the list of veterans who, according to the Omaha National Cemetery, have no one in the area nor anyone at all."

Every day on Memorial Day, Rosenthal is calling on social media to have people adopt the burial sites of these veterans. In the first year, 2017, there were nine people on the list. This year it was 14.

"It's just something I did because I thought it should be done," she said. "If someone can put flowers on someone who has no one to do it, it's a cool project."

Visitors left flowers and gifts on Stoltz's coffin. They wiped away tears. And they thanked each other for being there to support a stranger who served.

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