'He is ours': Hundreds show up to pay respects to 'unclaimed veteran' in Elgin
When John James Murphy died in Elgin last month, he was an "unclaimed veteran" whose relatives couldn't be found or contacted to take care of his burial.
On Wednesday, he was unclaimed no more.
Hundreds of people from Elgin and as far as Chicago, Aurora and Naperville attended his visitation and service after the owners of an Elgin funeral extended an open invitation to the community. The funeral home took on the task of having his military burial approved by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
"He is ours," the Rev. Tim Perry said at the beginning of the service held at Symonds-Madison Funeral Home in Elgin, eliciting a chorus of "amen" and applause.
Murphy, 71, died Dec. 18 at a hospital in Elgin after having lived since 2017 at River View Rehab Center in Elgin.
He was a jet engine mechanic in the U.S. Air Force from 1966 to 1969 and earned several awards, included the Vietnam Service Medal.
The Daily Herald first reported that funeral homeowners Joy and Dan Symonds had invited the community to participate. The story was shared on Facebook more than 1,200 times in less than 24 hours and was picked up by local radio and TV media.
"I didn't think so many people would be here," said Cliff Hall of Palatine, a U.S. Navy veteran who attended the funeral after reading the story in the newspaper. "This is incredible."
Bev Beaman and Judy Koberling, friends of Murphy's at River View Rehab Center, agreed. "It's fantastic," Beaman said.
"I didn't think it would affect me so much," said Koberling, who said she was his girlfriend.
Murphy, who grew up in Chicago's Bridgeport neighborhood and had a passion for airplanes, said many members of his family died young while he lost touch with others, the two women said. He never combed his hair, liked to joke around and was a leader who looked out for others, they recalled.
People started lining up before the 10 a.m. visitation Wednesday under the watchful eye of the Illinois Patriot Guard Riders, who held U.S. flags along the entrance to the funeral home.
"Veterans all over should be honored. No veteran should have to be alone," Patriot Guard member Hank Clemmensen of Libertyville said.
Tyler Carlson of Elgin came with his 12-year-old son Truman and other members of Trail Life Troop 8757 out of Harvest Bible Church in Elgin. "I am excited and ready to listen about his life and understand who he was, and what he did as a veteran," Truman said.
The crowd included lots of veterans and service members, such as Joran Palmer of Elmhurst, who just got out of active service with the U.S. Army.
"It's a sort of brotherhood," Palmer said. "Everyone deserves a send-off with people that served with the same ideals."
Elgin Police Chief Ana Lalley and Elgin Interim Fire Chief Robb Cagann attended the service, along with several members of their departments. There were also people like Sonia Alfaro of Streamwood, who came with her mother and brought a bouquet of red roses.
"I wanted to come to support a veteran. I wanted him to be accompanied by people who appreciated his service and what he did for his country," she said.
The Symonds, who were partially reimbursed by the VA for funeral expenses, said they were grateful for the outpouring of support.
"It's a beautiful, God-blessing thing that we have here today," Dan Symonds said.
A procession with an escort from the Kane County sheriff's office and others drove to Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood, where Murphy was buried with military honors, including a rifle salute.
U.S. Army Reserves Maj. Christina Rudolph of Elk Grove Village was among about 150 people who went to the cemetery, where her father also is buried. Rudolph was among active-duty military members who offered to be pallbearers for Murphy.
"It was an opportunity to come home," she said, "and welcome another brother into a beautiful cemetery and wonderful resting place."