Final salute: Strangers send off WWII vet in Grand Haven

GRAND HAVEN, Mich.(WOOD) — Strangers gathered in Grand Haven Thursday to help send off a World War II veteran they never met.

Gordon Hale enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1944. He was 90 years old when he died Nov. 10 at Sanctuary at the Shore nursing home in Grand Haven, which he had called home for 14 years.

“I loved him. I loved him and I told him that. And I’m so glad I told him that because I kind of felt that he was, you know, going to go soon. And I just felt like no matter how grumpy he was, he needed to hear that,” said nurse aide Mary Petricio.

Officials with Sytsema Funeral & Cremation Services feared Hale would be buried alone; their records showed he was an only child without any children.

But the Charles A. Conklin American Legion Post 28 in Grand Haven, staff at Hale’s nursing home and the community took to social media to change that.

About 150 people — some who never met Hale — turned out Thursday afternoon at Lake Forest Cemetery in Grand Haven to say goodbye to him.

His service was handled with the greatest of care and respect by the honor guard, which carried out his flag draped casket.

The crowd prayed and honor guard members fired three volleys from their rifles. Then one by one, fellow veterans walked up to Hale’s casket and saluted.

“It’s a blessing to see how it turned out, to see that he had so many supporters. And I just kind of want to correct the part where it says he didn’t have any family. We (weren’t) family to him by blood, but him being where he was – we were all his family,” said nurse aide Sequita Henry.

“He had a lot of brothers and sisters there today. His family grew by over 100 today,” community member Doug Pickel said.

All three nurse aides who spoke with 24 Hour News 8 Thursday agreed on how Hale would have responded to the huge show of support.

“He would hate it. He’d be so mad right now. I assume that’s why it’s raining right now, this is all him,” they said.

The women say Hale was a humble man who wouldn’t want the attention and didn’t talk much about his service. But the community clearly wouldn’t stand for that.

After the ceremony, people at the American Legion post down the road raised their glasses to Hale.

“God bless you. Thank you for your service,” one person said.

“Here, here!” Answered the crowd.

A smaller group raised the flag after it had flown at half-staff in Hale’s honor for 24 hours.

“The man was there today and he saw everything from his own box seat. He knows that we sent him off with the dignity that he deserves,” said U.S. Navy veteran Adam Shumaker.

“Being a Navy vet myself, it was very heartwarming,” said Charles A. Conklin American Legion Post 28 Commander Jim Porenta.