'We're going to be his family:' Locals rally to escort unclaimed veteran to VA

Brandon Paykamian • Aug 6, 2019 at 4:59 PM

When U.S. Army Vietnam veteran Larry Downing recently died at the age of 70, not much was known about him — other than he had no family to claim his body at Tetrick Funeral Services.

Without a family to attend the service, several local motorcycle clubs, veterans and others quickly volunteered to escort the veteran to Mountain Home National Cemetery Tuesday afternoon.

The escort was organized after Jeff Hartley, road captain of veteran motorcycle club Dog Tag Brigade, posted a call for help on Facebook after the funeral home reached out to the club.

The post was shared more than 1,300 times before Tuesday afternoon.

“Mr. Downing evidently has no family, and nobody claimed him,” Hartley said ahead of the service. “The VA is going to do military honors for him today, so we put it on Facebook, and we’ve been expecting quite a few people to come.”

Other clubs that participated included Rolling Thunder, Christian Motorcycle Association, Patriot Guard and members of Vietnam Veterans of America.

Tetrick Funeral Director Robbie Eastep said much of the arrangements were made at the last minute, and Grace Freewill Baptist Church Pastor Curtis Hurt immediately volunteered to lead the service.

“Everybody stepped up to show some support for him,” he said. “It’s just touching. It shows how much people still care and want to honor veterans.”

Dog Tag Brigade Vice President Chris Pritchard, an Airborne Division veteran from the first Gulf War, said he was moved to see other local veterans show their support for a fallen comrade.

“He doesn’t have any family here, so we’re going to be his family,” he said.