Funerals are sad affairs, but they provide a crucial space dedicated to remembering, honoring and saying final farewells to loved ones.
We’d like to think that our friends and family would show up to our funerals to pay their respects, but not everyone has friends and family.
Some people have given up everything to serve or have experienced incredible hardships that have left them without close companions.
Charles Johnson, known as “Billy,” was one of those people. Johnson had served his country in Vietnam as a U.S. Army infantryman, and he had spent his twilight years in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
Though he was alone in the city, he made an effort to reach out to those around him and became a familiar face to the other downtown regulars. He may not have started with family, but some of the people he talked to and who got to know the friendly gentleman soon became the closest thing to family he had.
So when Matthew O’Dell learned of the veteran’s passing, he rallied others to participate in one last act of goodwill. He especially sought out other service men and women who would understand Johnson’s situation and had a bond through their time in the military.
“It is with a deeply sad heart that we say goodbye to a staple of Downtown Murfreesboro, TN,” Matthew O’Dell wrote on the Reveille Joe Facebook page on April 13.
“Charles “Billy” Johnson, U.S. Army Infantryman and Vietnam Veteran, will be laid to rest at the Middle Tennessee Veterans Cemetery, located at 7931 McCrory Ln., Nashville, TN 37221, on April 17, 2019 at 10:00 a.m.
“Sadly, Billy is without any known relatives,” O’Dell wrote. “This means that we have the honor of standing in as his family and friends.
“I have very fond memories of Billy. With his warm smile, kind heart, and gentle wave, he illuminated the downtown square on a daily basis. Even if coffee wasn’t on Billy’s agenda for the day (which it almost ALWAYS was… 😉), I would see Billy enjoying his daily walks, while listening to his favorite tunes on his Walk-man.
“I would be honored if you would join me, as we remember and pay our respects to a kind man.”
O’Dell also urged readers to comment with their favorite story of Johnson, to attend the funeral if they could and to share news of the funeral so anyone else wanting to be Johnson’s extended family could participate.
It paid off, as there was quite a turnout at the funeral. The man who had no blood relatives had gained plenty of proxy family. Dozens attended — many in uniform — to share their memories of Johnson, as illustrated in a video by KABB.
“There was such an amazing show of support today for Billy,” O’Dell wrote in a follow-up post on April 17. “Thank you to all who sent kind words, prayers, memories, and shared the word.
“Thanks to Jeff, CVMA, PGR, and so many others for picking up the reigns and leading our Tennessee Veteran’s community. Together, we will accomplish any mission set before us.”
“Continue to step up, be assertive, and compassion,” O’Dell urged in closing.
“Remind someone who may be struggling, that they are not navigating the darkness alone. There is hope! Don’t wait until someone’s funeral to show them how much you appreciate and love them.”
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