FORT LYON • No one knew which war Navy veteran Horace Marrinan fought in. They didn’t know where he was from. They had never even met him.
Even so, more than 80 people from across the Front Range gathered to pay respects to the 86-year-old Navy veteran who died alone. He was surrounded by a crowd Wednesday as he was buried in Fort Lyon National Cemetery.
Marrinan died in hospice care at a nursing home in Fowler, said Curtis Peacock, owner of Peacock-Larsen Funeral Home in La Junta. Without his discharge paperwork, Peacock knew little about him. After Colorado’s American Legion heard that Marrinan would likely have no family at his funeral, they sent out a call for volunteers to give him an honorable goodbye.
The call attracted a large crowd of all ages — many of them veterans and their families. They bowed their heads on a lawn between the rows of nearly 2,500 tombstones at Fort Lyon National Cemetery for a short prayer. An American flag was folded and presented to Peacock, in lieu of family, followed by a rifle salute. A bugler played taps underneath the shade of large elm trees.
When Zach Chamberland, who is stationed at Fort Carson, heard about Marrinan’s lack of family, it reminded him of when his relative died while he was overseas in Korea in 2013.
“It’s not easy being away from a family member or friend, regardless of past or present,” said Chamberland, who soon will be medically discharged from the Army. “It’s still a family, being in the military.”
He and his wife, Britany, drove more than two hours to attend Marrinan’s funeral so that he wouldn’t be buried alone. Though they missed the short service, underestimating the long drive from Colorado Springs, they visited Marrinan’s grave site.
In a corner of the cemetery, Zach Chamberland stood in his dress uniform in silence, glancing down at the plot for the man he had never met, and gave Marrinan a final salute. He placed a penny near the bouquet of red roses and white carnations on Marrinan’s grave site — a tradition to mark that someone has visited to pay their respects.
More than 50 American Legion of Colorado members were in attendance, dressed in their uniforms and white caps. The Legion and other veterans’ organizations around the country have stepped up in recent years to ensure that veterans who die alone are properly mourned. Marrinan’s funeral was the third the Legion has arranged this year, said Dean Noechel, commander of the Legion’s 100th Department.
Fort Lyon, originally established as an Army post to counter warring Indian tribes, also was a clinic for veterans suffering from tuberculosis and other lung ailments in the wake of World War I. Its 59-acre U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs cemetery is the final resting place for veterans from across Colorado’s eastern plains.
“We need to make sure that our brother is laid to rest and with somebody to say thank you and to honor his military service,” Noechel said.
After the crowd left, Stephen Mara lingered next to Marrinan’s grave site, the third from the end of a row. Mara, a member of the Fort Lyon Supportive Residential Community, said he was surprised but glad to see so many guests.
“He put his life on the line. We should all pay our respect,” Mara said, who originally is from Denver but has lived in Fort Lyon for about four months. Though not a veteran, Mara said he has attended at least a dozen funerals in the past 10 years for veterans he never met.
Nine times out of 10, people have family to attend their funeral, Peacock said. Though Marrinan had a nonrelated guardian who lived in Oklahoma City, he had received care from Veteran Affairs since he was discharged. His elderly sister is in New York and was unable to attend but sent flowers.
Robert Montejano, who served in the Navy during the Gulf War, showed up with his wife, Kimberly. The couple asked the CEO at the hospital in La Junta where they work for time off to attend the funeral.
“I think it shows the spirit and patriotism that our small towns have for the service members that have served,” Kimberly Montejano said of the crowd. Her grandfather, a Marine veteran who served in the Korean War, is buried in Fort Lyon, too.
Elinda Roe felt it was her duty to show respect for Marrinan. She drove from Manzanola with her son, grandson and daughter-in-law. She said her husband, a Navy veteran, also was buried in the cemetery.
“We support our veterans. They are the reason we are free.”
Contact Olivia Prentzel: 726-1934. Twitter: @oliviaprentzel