Too many veterans die alone without family or friends to mourn their passing. Sometimes it happens because of age, but too often it happens because they are homeless.
Junior and senior students at the University of Detroit Jesuit High School and Academy decided no veteran should be buried without recognition for his or her military service to our country. To make sure these men and women receive the honor and dignity they deserve at death these students are acting as pallbearers for those who might otherwise have no one at their graveside or funeral.
“The men we honored today put their lives on the line for our country and now they deserve our dignity and service in return,” said senior-year student Leonard Froehlich. “There is no better way to pay our respects than by being pallbearers. We honor these service members by being with them in their last moments on earth, and that in itself is a privilege.”
Their respect and service goes much farther. Before each funeral, the student pallbearers pray for the deceased. They travel by student carpool, take part in funeral procession, carry the casket to the grave and share in the prayers of committal. After returning to school, students reflect prayerfully on their experience.
The program began on October 20 when six senior-year students served as pallbearers for the funerals of three unclaimed veterans at the Great Lakes National Cemetery in Holly. A.J. Desmond & Sons Funeral Directors conducted the three veterans’ funerals.
“The pallbearer program at U of D Jesuit says a lot about the school and the young men who attend there,” said Terry Desmond, president, A.J. Desmond & Sons Funeral Homes. “Their service to the less fortunate honors the dignity of individuals who are mostly out-of-the-view of our society.”
The need is great. A report released in 2014 by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) found there were about 50,000 homeless veterans in America. To put it another way, right now, the number of homeless Vietnam-era veterans is greater than the number of service persons who died during that war, according to Volunteers of America. Already, veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are appearing among the homeless population.
Before they began their program the U of D Jesuit students went to St. Ignatius High School in Cleveland, which runs a similar program, to gather information and to train. They also received additional training from Desmond Funeral Directors.
“Community service by our students is part of our school’s DNA and a hallmark of a Jesuit education,” said school President Karl J. Kiser, S.J. “Preserving the dignity of the human soul is important to all human beings, regardless of a person’s situation at death.”
The idea for a student-led pallbearer program started with informal student discussions about ways the student service team could better help the community, especially the marginalized and those persons forgotten by our society.
Other U of D Jesuit community service outreach programs include the annual entire 900 student-body service project in Detroit called “Pledge Detroit!” The goal is to beautify city landmarks and help in community centers.