Over 1,000 turn out for unclaimed veteran's funeral

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Billy Aldridge would no doubt be overwhelmed at the number of people who attended his funeral Tuesday.

More than 1,000 people packed into the Lawrence United Methodist Church to honor a man no one knew but to whom everyone felt a connection.

Mitch Pendlum said, "it's important for me because he was a Marine and all Marines are my family."

Aldridge died at the age of 80 at Rosewalk Village on October 14 with no known family or friends.

Tuesday he was surrounded by an entire community. Amy Kalsheur of Indianapolis brought six of her eight children.

"No one should be buried alone and this man served our country and we just want to say thank you in some way," Kalsheur said.

Legacy Funeral Services planned the funeral with help from the nursing home, Private Label Caskets, Memorial Park Cemetery and Indianapolis Police Escort.

The funeral home asked people, especially veterans, to attend. No one imagined how large the outpouring would be. 

It included everyone from the executive director of the Indiana War Memorials, who gave the eulogy, to hundreds of veterans in full uniform, to those simply moved by the story of Billy Aldridge.

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Leslie Archer drove in from northern Indiana "because my dad was a Navy vet. He's passed now, so it's my responsibility to (look out) for other vets."

Chaplain Ron May said Aldridge's decision to become a Marine said, "I will represent my country.  I will wear a uniform and I will if necessary, put myself in harm's way."

Brig. Gen. J. Stewart Goodwin shared information from Aldridge's military records.

Goodwin said, "He served three years, 11 months and 29 days...following his (service) he moved to Indianapolis to care for his sick mother, who passed away January 1, 1997."

Goodwin went on to talk about what it means to be a hero. He said while searching online, he found several references to professional athletes and entertainers. He said a true hero was selfless, made sacrifices and put others first.

"There's a difference between entertainers and heroes and Cpl. Aldridge was a hero," Goodwin said, prompting loud applause.

As the service ended, many joined a long line waiting to walk by the casket and pay their last respects.  

Jane Klotz with the Daughters of the American Revolution helped Legacy Funeral Services gather what information she could on Billy Aldridge.

She was stunned and touched by the turnout.

"I never dreamed there'd be over 1,000 people here. It's amazing, the people of Indianapolis really came through," she said.

More than 100 people joined the procession to Memorial Park Cemetery for graveside prayers, followed by a 21-gun salute and "Taps." 

Billy Aldridge would not be forgotten.  

"The silver lining in all this is, I'm going to go volunteer in nursing homes and make sure we don't have this ever again," Archer said.

Then looking around her at all the others who came to pay tribute, she added, "I'm proud of our state. I'm proud of our people. This is unity. This is America."