Three veterans laid to rest last week were not known in their communities. Their families had dispersed and dissipated, as did their battle buddies.
But they served their country, and that's all that mattered to students at the University of Detroit Jesuit High School and Academy who stepped up to serve as pallbearers at the funerals of those three homeless veterans.
Six students from the all-boys Catholic prep school in Detroit walked the remains to their final resting place at the Great Lakes National Cemetery, the high school announced Oct. 20.
"The men we honored today put their lives on the line for our country and now they deserve our dignity and service in return," Leonard Froehlich, a senior, said in the school's news release. "There is no better way to pay our respects than by being pallbearers. We honor these service members by being with them in their last moments on earth, and that in itself is a privilege."
The student-led initiative, which has so far trained more than 50 students, partners with local funeral homes to ensure the remains of deceased veterans that go unclaimed after 90 days receive their proper disposition; the Dignity Memorial Network Homeless Veterans Program provides caskets for the services.
"The students' service is so important because they realize how they can give back to the people of our community who have given so much to us," faculty program leader Todd Wilson told TODAY. "The students have come to understand that it is not our place to judge someone and their circumstances in life, but rather to celebrate and respect the dignity of that person's life."
As Veterans Day approaches, more students will serve as pallbearers next month in the Detroit area.
"I know that these people had loved ones and, whether or not these loved ones could be there to say goodbye, it does not change the fact that everyone deserves a proper burial," Nick Benedetto, a senior, told TODAY. "During the funerals, while listening to the eulogies, I heard a particular statement that I feel was very important: While you didn't know him by name or sight, we are all here today to recognize his service to our country."
The number of homeless veterans has been reduced by more than 25,000 in the last five years, but between 40,000 and 50,000 veterans are believed to still be struggling with homelessness.