(THV11) — On Friday, Vietnam War Veteran Vernon Russell was laid to rest at the Arkansas State Veterans Cemetery. Russell served as a Marine, he had no blood relatives but was laid to rest with his brothers in arms at his side.
Service members and veterans from every branch of the military showed up to pay their respects along with the Sherwood and North Little Rock fire departments.
When a veteran’s body goes unclaimed, it’s usually up to local funeral homes to give them a proper burial. The Little Rock Funeral Home has been providing free services for veterans, who had no family, for more than a decade.
“I actually committed when I first opened the funeral home that I would take care of everybody and never turn anyone down,” said Brad Leggett, owner of the Little Rock Funeral Home.
“The very first funeral I had in the funeral home was an unclaimed veteran,” said Leggett.
Russell was one of the hundreds of unclaimed veterans that have been laid to rest, at no cost, by the Little Rock Funeral home. With very little funding for these services, owner Brad Leggett is left to absorb the cost.
“For many years, there wasn’t any kind of funding at all,” said Leggett. “Just the last years there is funding that goes towards the casket, but nothing for the service.”
Leggett said he pays for these funerals out of pocket because it’s an honor to make sure these veterans are treated with dignity until the very end.
“We don’t just have a funeral. We take care of them just as if they were paying us,” said Leggett. “We do the research on trying to find the family, we put something in the newspaper, have a Chaplin there, military honors, in some cases we have the patriot guard that shows up.”
“Being patriotic makes me feel really good, I get a great feeling for what we do. It’s everything to me,” said Leggett.
Too humble to admit his own generosity, Leggett has been recognized by several organizations.
“The community service award from the wounded warriors program and the Daughters of the American Revolution for the state of Arkansas.”
His kind acts have even gained the attention of a former president.
“It’s a wonderful and deeply caring gesture and I applaud you for the good work, all the best to you,” read a letter that was sent to Leggett by former President Bill Clinton.