Community gathers around abandoned Vietnam veteran to bury him with honors

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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) – An abandoned Phoenix War veteran was going to be buried alone without any close family members until now. The funeral home staff called in hopes he could be buried with even a few people present, and now he’s grown bigger than they ever imagined.

The Vietnam War veteran was 83 when he died in September last year. His military records testify to a career of service and accomplishment. Now, not only will he be buried surrounded by love, but he will also rest with his love.

At a small funeral home in Maryvale, death often means more to those who work here. “Veterans have a really special place in my heart. My stepfather was in Vietnam, said Mickie Chanley, of Advantage Maryvale Funeral Home.

Chanley received a call from the hospice stating that Norman Coulter, an 83-year-old Vietnam veteran, had passed away. She started going through her files. “I took the time to look at his discharge papers – he’s got so many medals,” Chanley said.

This decorated war hero served for more than 16 years, with a long list of prestigious awards. But he had no one to rest him with, and his only living relative was estranged and uninvolved in his life.

“We felt like we just couldn’t allow that to happen,” said United Phoenix Firefighters’ PJ Dean.

That’s when the United Phoenix Firefighters got involved, not wanting to let Norman’s death and burial be an afterthought. It is expected that firefighters, police officers, the honor guard and many others will be present for the ceremony.

“Whether it’s protecting your country or your community, the work we do goes the same way,” Dean said.

And Norman won’t be buried alone. His wife died in 2011 and he took her ashes with him until the very end. “The fact that his wife died in 2011, and ten years later he still had her from one care facility to another, it was the right thing to get them to sleep together,” said Chanley.

What started as grief for a veteran she never knew became more than she could have imagined. Norman Coulter will be buried surrounded by a family he didn’t even know he had.

“I just wish he knew there are people who care,” Chanley said with tears in her eyes. “I think it’s going to blow my mind.”

Norman’s funeral will be open to the public for anyone wishing to come and pay their respects, especially other law enforcement and first responders. If you wish to attend, the ceremony will begin at 11 a.m. on Wednesday, March 30 at the National Memorial Cemetery of Arizona.

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