Community gathers for veteran’s funeral, family not located

HELENA, Mont. – Many of the 100+ attendees at Army Spc. Michael J. Gilmer at the Montana State Veterans Cemetery had never met the veteran.

Gilmer, 52, died in the intensive care unit at Fort Harrison Veterans Affairs Medical Center in late October. Hospital staff said Gilmer has family but they could not be contacted.

“It doesn’t often happen that someone dies so completely disconnected,” said hospital chaplain Tim Weidlich of patients at the local VA hospital.

The staff didn’t know much about Gilmer.

After reviewing his papers after his death, they found he had received the Army Commendation Medal for his contribution to securing Baghdad during Operation Iraqi Freedom as part of the 4th 506th Infantry Division based in Fort Carson, Colorado.

The remains of Army Spc. Michael J. Gilmer will be escorted to a funeral ceremony at the Montana State Veterans Cemetery near the VA Medical Center in Fort Harrison west of Helena, Montana on Thursday, November 18, 2021. (Thom Bridge / independent recording via AP)

Employee Sgt. Russell Smith of the Montana Army National Guard serves as a full-time corporal for religious affairs of the outfit. Smith said Weidlich reached out to him recently to spread the word about the funeral. He posted a message on his social media account saying that VA staff “ask anyone willing and able to attend to do them an honorable service.”

“It was my goal to have a few people with me,” Weidlich said during the service. “By my count, we did that.”

The more than 100 nurses, veterans and parishioners gathered on Thursday in the humble pavilion at the south end of the cemetery, the Independent data set reported.

After Weidlich’s words and prayers, members of the honor guard of Lewis and Clark gave veteran Gilmer a fair military goodbye, including a rendition of “Taps” played by a lone horn.

A Helena’s Pipes and Drums of the Black Devils bagpiper yelled “Amazing Grace” when Gilmer was buried in the cemetery.

“Even in times when we feel unfamiliar, it’s just not true,” Weidlich said during the ceremony before reading King David’s Old Testament words acknowledging God’s ongoing presence. “If only a family like this reminds me of my life.”

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Numerous members of veteran groups also paid their respects.

Weidlich referred to the crowd as a military family and thanked them for their presence in place of Gilmer’s biological family.

“It really is a family,” he said in an interview after the ceremony. “You want to make sure that no soldier is left behind.”

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