A U.S. Army veteran who served in Vietnam -- who recently died alone in his New Jersey home but had no known relatives -- was honored Friday by more than 1,000 strangers in a funeral service steeped in military tradition.
A procession of around 200 vehicles filled with mourners made its way from a church to the funeral in North Hanover Township – just 42 miles east of Philadelphia – to pay their respects to Peter Turnpu, 77, according to reports.
”This is my brother,” retired Army Sgt. Jose Burgos, an Iraq War veteran, said. “It’s a brotherhood.”
They lined up to file past Turnpu's casket -- some weeping and others giving a salute.
A neighbor found Turnpu dead Dec. 9 inside his Waterford home. He lived alone and had few acquaintances. He was married, but got divorced in 1980 and had no children, reports said.
A police officer asked local funeral home owner LeRoy Wooster to help plan a service and burial. He launched a social media campaign to recruit people to attend the funeral. He provided his services, the casket and transportation free of charge.
”It was the right thing to do,” Wooster said. “I didn’t want him to be buried alone.”
He told the Philadelphia Inquirer he was able to obtain information about Turnpu after finding a letter from the Department of Veterans Affairs during a visit to a VA hospital in Philadelphia
Turnpu served in Vietnam from 1964 to 1966 and was honorably discharged from the Army, making him eligible for burial with full military honors, WPIX-TV in New York City reported. He was born in Estonia in 1941 and came to the United States with his mother, according to immigration documents.
A group from the New Jersey chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America was attending another funeral service at the veterans cemetery Friday and stayed for Turnpu’s service.
“We’re all brothers. Nobody should go out alone,” Ordway VanHee, the group’s third vice president, told the Inquirer.
Tom Engkilterra, regional coordinator of the National League of POW/MIA Families, was presented with the American flag that draped Turnpu’s casket.
”He’s part of my family now," he said. "It’s a mind-blowing honor to receive it.”