More than 100 turn out for military funeral for local Vietnam veteran without family

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LEAVENWORTH, Kan. -- A Kansas City veteran was laid to rest Friday with full military honors. But his final farewell was a far cry from what the few he knew and loved him expected.

The VFW Riders are used to showing support at military funerals. But on Friday, the call to serve was different.

"We were told he had no family, just a caregiver. That's all it took," said George Westbrook, president of VFW Riders Post 56 Leavenworth.

The group rolled into Leavenworth National Cemetery, flanked by current service members and the community, to honor Army and Vietnam War veteran Tommie Stevens.

"He was a good friend. Whew, I'm sorry," said Christine Seal, Stevens' caregiver, as she fought back tears. "He was always there if I needed help or if he needed help or if we needed help."

Seal is a nurse and came to know Stevens when they became neighbors two years ago.

As a former VA caregiver, her gut instincts told her he needed help and didn't have anyway to get it.

"I knew I needed to step up and be there for him," Seal said.

Stevens had suffered a stroke and stomach bleed. For two years, she met his every need. And when he passed away recently, she made sure he'd find rest with other fallen heroes.

"I think all veterans should be honored. Period," Seal said. "I have a big heard for that and promised him I'd take care of him to the very end."

And while she expected only three or four people at his funeral Friday, the military community came out in force to help her deliver on that promise.

They conducted a ceremonial flag folding, played Taps and offered gratitude for the veteran's service, and Christine's service to him, offering her a certificate of appreciation.

"We each hope and pray that no matter how dark things might seem, no matter how alone we may feel, that somebody like you comes into our lives and helps us," said Pastor Cape Rust with Pilgrim Community Church.

More than 100 people gathered for Friday's send-off, nearly all were total strangers to Tommie Stevens. But they were bonded by their duty and respect to country and determined to give him the honor and respect his service deserves.

"We all fought for the same flag, and we all bleed the same color, so it doesn't make any difference. We're here to honor the veteran and to show he's not forgotten," Westbrook said.

Stevens' cremains will be interred at the Leavenworth National Cemetery. His caregiver plans to have the ceremonial flag displayed at St. Luke's Hospice House, so others will come to know his sacrifice and story.

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