Veterans, an honor guard from the Grand Forks Air Base and other community members are planning to attend a funeral and burial for 67-year-old Lelan Derr at the year-old Fargo National Cemetery Friday, Oct. 16, at 11 a.m.
"It really went kind of viral," said John Runsvold of Hanson-Runsvold Funeral Home, who helped line up the services for Derr, who he called an "unclaimed veteran."
"The community really rose to the occasion," Runsvold said.
He had contacted national military officials about another burial, and they were able to track down Derr's military record, finding out the Iowa native served in Vietnam from 1971-1975 and became disabled.
Once it was verified, Runsvold said, they were able to schedule the burial at the national cemetery.
He said they found Derr had one estranged sister in Iowa, but she was unable to help with any funeral expenses and hadn't seen her brother for years.
Veteran Dave Rice, a member of the volunteer Fargo Memorial Honor Guard who serves at several funerals a week at the national cemetery, said their group was originally planning to play taps, fire the three-volley rifle salute and handle the flag-folding for Derr's funeral.
However, because he was in the Air Force, the air base decided to send down its honor guard.
"We don't want any veteran to die or be interred alone," Rice said.
He said he sees local veterans with no next of kin to claim the body "very, very seldom."
Cemetery Manager Nicole Guderjohn agreed. She said she also doesn't want to see any veteran go unrecognized when they are buried.
She expects a fairly large crowd for the outdoor ceremony after the word spread.
Runsvold said they will leave the funeral home about 10:15 a.m. with a law enforcement escort all the way to the cemetery northwest of Fargo along County Road 20.