Strangers honor 'unclaimed' Navy veteran at funeral

Navy veteran Daniel J. Powell's family couldn't be located for his funeral, but several of his military family saluted him Friday. (Photo: WTHR)

INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) - When military veteran Daniel J. Powell passed away three weeks ago, the funeral home on the northwest side of Indianapolis couldn't find any family.

So they invited the public -- anyone who could go -- to give him a proper goodbye.

They held a salute to service Friday with full military honors and "family" that defies traditional definition.

The mourners at this funeral didn't know Daniel Joseph Powell personally. He died at 67 years old, with no relatives left behind, not even a picture to place with his casket.

"God bless you all for being here today," the pastor told attendees. "I've never been in this situation before but it kind of touched my heart."

Officially, Powell was a veteran "unclaimed" by family. That changed Friday morning.

"As I walked in, I walked in with a couple of law enforcement officers that said none of us should have to go home alone," said veteran James Higginson.

Dozens of people gathered to pay tribute to Powell, together. They celebrated his service and sacrifice just like family members.

"He's our family. We're his family," a member of the honor guard said. "And we're always going to be there for our family."

Powell was in the Navy in the 1970's. He served as an electrician's mate on the USS Guam. That knowledge, and that flag draped over his casket, was enough to compel strangers to honor his life.

"I feel as though every veteran has the right to have a brethren here to represent them and I was afraid that no one was going to be here for him. So, that's why it was important for me to show up," Higginson said.

"It's an honor, really. I'm blessed to be in this position to accept this flag," said Taylor Thompson, who came from Brownsburg to attend the funeral. "I accepted it on behalf of his unknown family and the funeral home."

It was full military honors for an unknown hero. Brothers and sisters in arms, sending this serviceman home.

"We will always be family and will none of us will ever be unclaimed. Hooyah!," the Honor Guard member said.

After services at the Sprowl Funeral Home, Powell was laid to rest at the Marion National Cemetery.

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