Elgin funeral director goes above and beyond for Vietnam War veteran

Daniel Symonds' unique opportunity to help a fellow veteran came last year when he received a phone call from Kane County Coroner Rob Russell.

The body of a homeless man, who had served in the Vietnam War, had been brought to the coroner's office. The man's background made a funded military funeral impossible: He had gone AWOL and was charged and convicted.

“He came home and he just walked away one day,” said Symonds, who has been a funeral director for 23 years and a member of the army reserves for 16 years. “He was done.”

The man, whose name Symonds declined to disclose, was eventually pardoned, along with many other AWOL Vietnam veterans, by President Gerald Ford. But the man had lost his military benefits.

“I knew absolutely I had to help him, even if I have to reach into my pocket,” Symonds said. “The whole leave-no-man-behind-thing is important to me.”

Symonds, who is an executive board member for American Legion Post 57 in Elgin, often volunteers his time with local veterans to give advice on how to make a will or how to plan a funeral. But this was different.

Symonds got to work. He provided his services as funeral director for free and started reaching out to others who would be able to help. He contacted Dundee Township Cemetery officials and asked them to waive their charges, which they did. He called Kowalski Memorials, Inc. in Carol Stream and asked if there were any headstones they could donate, which they did. And when it came to buying the urn for the Vietnam veteran's ashes, Symonds and his wife Joy decided they would pay $200 for one.

“We got him buried and everyone donated time,” Symonds said. “He made a mistake, he screwed up, but he had to be taken care of. If the president can forgive him, so can I.”

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