Funeral for 'unclaimed veteran' Wednesday in Elgin
Vietnam veteran John James Murphy was kind to fellow residents of River View Rehab Center in Elgin, calling nurses when they needed help and gifting them spare cigarettes whenever asked.
Murphy died at age 71 on Dec. 18 at Presence St. Joseph Hospital in Elgin. For weeks authorities tried to get in contact with his relatives -- reportedly a brother, two sisters, one child and grandchildren -- without success.
In the absence of family, a funeral home in Elgin hopes others will attend services Wednesday for Murphy, followed by his burial at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood.
Maria Ortiz, activity director at River View, said she's glad Murphy will be buried with military honors, which the funeral home worked on.
"John was very friendly. He was polite. He was always making little jokes and he got along well with others. He was very helpful with other residents," she said. "It's well deserved for him."
Funeral home owners Dan and Joy Symonds said people are welcome to come, whether they knew Murphy or simply want to pay their respects to a veteran.
"It's very important to us that no veteran is left behind, that they are properly taken care of," Joy Symonds said.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs provides some reimbursement to funeral homes if veterans have been honorably discharged. Kane County Coroner Rob Russell said when his office was unable to find next of kin, he contacted the VA, which in turn directed him to the funeral home in Elgin.
"We look for phone numbers on the fridge, we look for address books. We do internet searches and we have our special (database) system. We even talk to neighbors and friends," he said. "We do everything we can do to try to find a next of kin. Not even just for veterans, for people who aren't veterans, too."
The Symonds said it took lots of phone calls and paperwork to get the military burial approved. The funeral home is getting about $3,200, a "partial reimbursement," but the effort is well worth it, they said.
"I hope this is not the last time that I do this for a veteran, an unclaimed veteran," said Dan Symonds, also a veteran. "To me it's important. Everybody deserves a decent burial and these guys, it doesn't matter where they served, even if they didn't see combat, they deserve to be honored."
Murphy was born Jan. 15, 1948, in Chicago and was a jet engine mechanic in the U.S. Air Force from 1966 to 1969. He earned several awards: National Defense Service Medal, Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal, Presidential Unit Citation and Vietnam Service Medal.
He worked as a welder and a store manager at the former Dominick's grocery store chain and spent his later years in Elgin. He moved to River View in August 2017.
Visitation starts at 10 a.m. with a service at 11 a.m. at Symonds-Madison Funeral Home, 305 Park St. in Elgin. A procession will leave about noon from Elgin for interment with military honors at 2 p.m. at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery, 20953 W. Hoff Rd., Elwood.
The Symonds said the funeral home will keep Murphy's flag for his relatives, should they come forward in the future.
For more information, call the funeral home at (847) 741-1128 or visit symondsmadisonfuneralhome.com.