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Homeless veterans honored, remembered

Community: Local residents attend service of four men they respect but never knew

Posted: April 18, 2010 11:58 p.m.
Updated: April 19, 2010 4:55 a.m.

The coffins of four men who served in the U.S. Armed Forces are placed in front of a memorial at Eternal Valley Memorial Park on Sunday. The four men were honored in a full military ceremony, despite being classified as "homeless" at the time of their death.

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The four men had no known family to claim them.

They had no traceable living addresses.

Dozens of people standing before four coffins atop a wind-blown hill knew hardly anything more of the deceased men aside from their names.

John C. Newman, Raymond Frajardo, Larry Lavine and Edward Goodrich were United States veterans.

For that reason alone, they were honored as extended family members and heroes at Eternal Valley Memorial Park on Sunday afternoon.

“We don’t know their stories and probably never will,” said Richard Steinmetz, the memorial park’s general manager. “What we do know is that when the call came, each in their own way answered the call.”

Newman served in the U.S. Navy from 1942 to 1945. Frajardo served in the Navy from 1957 to 1963. Lavine was a member of the U.S. Army from 1957 to 1958 and Goodrich, also an army veteran, served from 1962 to 1965.

A mild breeze accompanied the melody of Amazing Grace on Sunday afternoon as a bagpiper walked before each coffin. The veterans’ names were read and attached to red, white and blue floral wreaths placed in their honor. The Memorial Honor Detail Team from the Riverside National Cemetery raised the flags and gave a gun salute.

Robert L. Good, a Stevenson Ranch resident and Bronze Star recipient in the Vietnam War, said he was proud to stand in as the men’s extended family.  

“What it takes for the military machine to operate — it takes everybody,” Good said. “It takes a certain amount of energy and sacrifice and I think these gentlemen played their part in that whole machine to make the United States of America a free place.”

The service fell silent as two members of both the U.S Army and Navy folded the American flags that were draped over the men’s coffins.

A Navy official placed the last-folded flag in Good’s hands.

Good will take the flag and a display of the men’s names to the veteran’s center in Sepulveda.

The veterans will be escorted to the Riverside National Cemetery for internment on Wednesday. The men died sometime between December 2009 and March 2010, Steinmetz said. They joined more than 150,000 homeless veterans in the United States, many of whose remains are unclaimed at death and risk burial in pauper’s graves.

The ceremony was coordinated by staff members of the Dignity Memorial Homeless Veterans Burial Program which is designed to give homeless and family-less veterans dignified military funeral honors.

“When we don’t know who their families are, it’s the community’s responsibility to see to it that they don’t get put in a potter’s field somewhere or are cremated and ashes scattered someplace,” Steinmetz said.

Several local residents attended the service including City Councilman Bob Kellar and Rabbi Mark Blazer, of Temple Beth Ami in Newhall.

Blazer gave the closing prayer.

“Grant, oh God, that the example of those who have served our country, move us to equal loyalty, to a pure and exalted patriotism,” he said. “Those who have served their country, risking their very lives, reminds us of those who are committing their time in service to their country at this very moment, in some of the most dangerous places on earth.”

Marine veteran Richard Jeffrey, of Saugus, said he has always struggled with the concept of homeless veterans.

When Jeffrey returned from Vietnam in 1969, he came home to the support of loving parents, a brother, sister and wife, he said.

Whether a veteran chooses to be homeless or not, he said, they should be buried with honor by people who can call them “family.”

“They’re my brothers and they deserve to have somebody here of their same ilk,” he said. “What they may or may not have accomplished in their life has little to do with the honors we should always bestow on any of them.”

“They were veterans — that’s the highest honor,” he said.   

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