Hundreds honor WWII Marine who died without living relatives

David Klepper
Associated Press
Beth Regan is presented with the flag that draped the casket of her friend Marine Private First Class Robert Graham on Friday, April 26, 2019 in Shrub Oak, NY. Graham, who died at 97 has no living family members but Regan arranged for hundreds to attend his funeral. "Receiving the flag was like receiving a part of him," Regan said.

Albany, N.Y. – Hundreds turned out Friday to honor a decorated World War II Marine in New York after a young friend ensured the 97-year-old’s life and death did not go unrecognized.

Bob Graham had no living relatives when he died April 12 in Westchester County, north of New York City.

Beth Regan, 27, befriended Graham four years ago when she began volunteering at his nursing home. Concerned that Graham’s funeral would be sparsely attended, she decided to do everything she could to make sure he received a farewell befitting a hero.

This 1942 file photo provided by Dale Ross shows his uncle, Pfc. Dale W. Ross, in Hawaii. Ross went missing in the final weeks of the World War II Battle of Guadalcanal.

Mission accomplished.

Despite drizzly weather hundreds of veterans, first responders and others showed up to celebrate a life well lived. Officials temporarily closed a nearby highway to accommodate the funeral procession and its police escort. Firefighters hung a giant American flag over the procession’s route, while a police honor guard carried Graham’s casket into the church.

As for the American flag that draped his casket, it was folded, carefully, before a Marine in dress uniform presented it to Regan.

After the service, Regan said complete strangers approached to offer their condolences. Many were crying tears for a man they had never met.

“I think It’s people taking the time to appreciate our country, our veterans,” she said when asked to explain the outpouring of emotion that Graham’s death had prompted. “I think there’s a lot of good in the world. It’s not always seen day-to-day. But there is a lot of compassion in this world.”

The casket of Marine Private First Class Robert Graham is carried into St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church by members of the New York City Police Department on Friday, April 26, 2019 in Shrub Oak, NY.

Graham earned Bronze and Silver stars for his service in the Pacific, where he fought at Guadalcanal and Bougainville as a member of the elite Marine Raiders. Following the war, he returned to New York state where he worked as a corrections officer. Rosie, his wife of more than 60 years, died two years ago.

Regan said her friend seldom talked about his time in the war and didn’t like to be called a hero, saying the true heroes were the ones who never got to go home.