FARGO — Close to 200 people showed up at Fargo's National Cemetery on Friday, Oct. 16, to give a Vietnam veteran a proper funeral and burial.
When the man died alone in an efficiency apartment in north Fargo months ago, no family claimed him.
Despite the morning ice and snow, dozens of motorcycles rolled up and gathered near Island Park Friday. Many of the riders were veterans.
"That is what we will do, we will escort him. Nobody should go out alone like that, and we will make sure he doesn't," said Tom Krabbenhoft, one of the escorts.
Hanson Runsvold Funeral Home called on the men to escort the remains of Lelan Derr, the 67-year-old Vietnam veteran who died in Fargo and had no family to claim him. On Friday, the whole community called him their brother.
"Vets stick together. That is a whole 'nother family you gain when you are in the military, you gain a whole new family," said volunteer Wayne Hogenson.
The motorcycles prepared to leave downtown in a procession that led them all, not to a pauper cemetery, but the new Fargo National Cemetery.
The funeral home requested and got the green light to bury Derr there with the military honors he deserved.
Fellow veterans, some who served in Vietnam and traveled a great distance, stood in a biting wind as Lelan finally got his homecoming.
The Grand Forks Air Force Base Honor Guard helped fulfill the country's obligation of never forgetting.
"It is how we are as a brotherhood, there is no way we would allow a guy like this (to) leave the world alone," said Vietnam veteran John Pearce.
Derr may have spent months in the city morgue unclaimed, but on Friday he received a day of deserved dignity Not one person at the funeral knew Lelan. All left feeling like they'd just said goodbye to family.
Lelan had a surviving sister who hadn't spoken to or seen him in decades. She was unable to claim his remains or take part in any service, but she cried over the phone when learning he would be buried with military honors.