CANTON — Approximately 100 people gathered at Georgia National Cemetery on Wednesday morning to pay respects to a veteran they did not know and who died without any known family members.
Bishop David Epps from the Cathedral of Christ the King in Sharpsburg led the service.
“When I got the call from the funeral home, they asked if I knew anybody who could do the service today,” Epps said. “I decided I had to be here. He died alone, but I didn’t want him to be buried alone.”
Richard Lindsay Butterfield, who served in the Marine Corps during the 1960s, was deployed to Vietnam and had attained the rank of first lieutenant by the time he was honorably discharged.
He was laid to rest Wednesday among his comrades-in-arms.
With no next-of-kin to be found for Butterfield, fellow veterans, members of the Marine Corps League, Patriot Guard Riders and other members of the community came together to show their respect.
During the service, Epps read off what information about Butterfield was known: He was born in Glen Ridge, New Jersey, in 1939 and enlisted in the Marines after graduating from college. He earned the Armed Forces Expeditionary medal for his service in Vietnam and received an honorable discharge from the Marines. Beyond that, however, he said there was a lot which remained unknown about Butterfield, including if he had siblings, a wife or children, places he may have lived or what other jobs he may have held during his life.
Epps said he was proud to see so many people come out to the cemetery and pay their respects to the veteran.
“I fully expected only a few people to be here today,” Epps said. “I am deeply impressed by all the people who came out here. I tried to do a quick head count, and I estimated there were around 100 people attending. All of the services were represented here today.”
As a priest and a member of the Marine Corps League, Epps said he has done a number of funeral services like this, so preparing for Wednesday’s service was not overly difficult, but not everything about it was easy.
“What was difficult to me was the realization that he died alone, unknown and unheralded,” Epps said. “I wanted to be here because I felt it was my duty. I felt in my heart I had to be here. He was my fellow Marine.”
He reiterated this point during the service, explaining how Butterfield may have died alone, but he will never have to be alone again.
“He will, in this place, be surrounded for all time by his fellow soldiers, sailors, Air Force, Coast Guardsmen, and yes, even Marines,” Epps said.
Others attending the service Wednesday included members of at least two detachments of the Marine Corps League and 18 members of the Patriot Guard Riders, with some riders forming a flag line leading to the shelter, while others on its rifle unit fired off a three-volley salute near the end of the service.
“It means a great deal for us to be here,” Georgia Ride Capt. Tom “Winger” Cissell of the Patriot Guard Riders said. “We wanted to make sure he goes to his final resting place with honor and dignity.”
Cissell said every funeral he and other riders attend is meaningful, but it becomes more meaningful when the deceased veteran has no family to attend the service.
“We become his family,” Cissell said. “There is definitely a sense of pride to see him off properly.”
Two active duty Marines were present and, after folding the flag draped over Butterfield’s casket, presented it and three shell casings to symbolize the three-volley salute to one of the members of the Patriot Guard Riders. The flag, along with the Marine Corps Challenge Coin traditionally given to the surviving family of a deceased Marine and recognition presented by the Marine Corps League detachments, will remain at Georgia National Cemetery in the hope members of Butterfield’s family may be found.
“My hope is to help find his comrades and family if possible,” Epps said. “That’s a project for me I want to take on.”