NILES — A Vietnam veteran who died in late May will be getting a proper sendoff thanks to a Niles funeral home.
Brown Funeral Home officials put out the call late last week for people to come to a memorial service for Wayne Wilson and ,have been amazed by the response.
Drew Mikel, an intern at Brown Funeral Home, said the response has been overwhelming since the call went out. Not only local residents and organizations but people from across the country have contacted the funeral home.
Fellow Vietnam veteran Albert Walker was among those posting on the funeral home’s Facebook page and thanking Wilson for his service.
“Vietnam veterans are family by a baptism our country gave us,” he wrote. “You are my brother from another mother, DOD Department of Defense is our father. Gone but not forgotten Semper Fi.”
“We have families from as far away as Iowa and Tennessee who didn’t know him but who are coming after seeing our post on Facebook,” Mikel said Saturday. “We have motorcycle groups taking part. The Indiana Patriot Guard Riders was one of the first groups to say they were going be there.”
Mikel reported that the service is set for Wednesday at 2 p.m. at the Silverbrook Cemetery Abbey on East Main Street. A motorcycle escort will lead the procession from the funeral home in downtown Niles to the cemetery that afternoon.
Wilson was born Dec. 11, 1951 in Michigan City but lived most of his life in the Niles area. He served in the U.S. Army from 1971 to 1977, including time spent in Vietnam, where he was wounded. He was a truck driver for many years before becoming confined to a wheelchair. He died May 28 at 67 after surgery at an Ann Arbor hospital.
While local residents might not have known Wilson by name, he was a familiar figure in Niles.
“Every Memorial Day he was the first one at the cemetery gates, he was always there to honor his fallen comrades,” Mikel said. “He was also often seen in his wheelchair downtown talking to strangers.”
“Mr. Wilson came in to the funeral home a few years ago to preplan his funeral,” Mikel said. “He had no children and said there was no one to take care of things once he passed.”
Mikel noted that the funeral home initially planned to hold a service in early June but decided to postpone when a group of Wilson’s friends and neighbors planned a gathering on July 17.
Besides the Patriot Guard Riders, others taking part include members of the Buchanan American Legion Post 51 and the Rev. Michael Smith of Hope Community Church in Niles.
“He’s a veteran himself and was also wounded,” Mikel said of Smith. “We asked him to come, we thought he would be able to relate to Mr. Wilson. He said he was more than willing to come.”
Mikel said that while he now expects that a large crowd will be on hand to pay their respects to Wilson, he encourages others to still think about coming. “The invitation is still open, we’d love everyone to come.”
As for the funeral home, he said it’s been an honor for them to serve Wilson and other military veterans through the years.
“We got a flag box in May for our flag retirement program and now we cremate a flag with veterans who are cremated,” he said. “It’s our way of giving back to those who have served our country.”