Vietnam veteran in Fargo had no family around when he died, so local veterans rallied
A service was held at the Fargo National Cemetery Wednesday, March 29, for unclaimed veteran Samuel Force. A member of the Fargo Memorial Honor Guard works to find relatives even after the funerals.
FARGO — Many braved the cold morning to honor an unclaimed veteran at the Fargo National Cemetery Wednesday, March 29.
Samuel Force was a Vietnam veteran who served in the U.S. Navy from 1977 to 1983. He was originally from Philadelphia but moved to Fargo in the 1990s.
Don Herrly, a former state commander of the North Dakota American Legion, said all who served deserve to be honored.
"(They) offered their sacrifice for our country, and no matter what the weather is, it's important for us to come out and show our support for that person," Herrly said.
These services come from not being able to locate veteran's families, but it doesn't mean the Fargo Memorial Honor Guard stops trying to find them once the funeral is over.
Since the Fargo National Cemetery was dedicated in 2019, it has hosted services for eight unclaimed veterans. According to Fargo Memorial Honor Guard member Lisa Folstad, in that same time frame, the relatives of five of those eight veterans have later been located.
"I've even made family trees, and I've gone back three generations and come back just to find nieces and nephews that might know information," Folstad said.
In addition to running their social media, Folstad is also the genealogist for the Fargo Memorial Honor Guard. She said her hunt for relatives begins where anyone else's would: Google. But there are other tools she uses to help find families.
"I go to Newspapers.com , there's a lot of great information on there. Sometimes I'll look on Ancestry for documents that might pop up."
One of her recent success stories was Brian Gordon Johnson, a U.S. Navy veteran who died in 2021.
"I found his niece just in Eagan, Minnesota. I drove down there on my own time," Folstad said.
She presented the niece with the flag and casings from the funeral, as well as a box of family photos and personal documents his landlord had found. Folstad said her hard work is rewarded through giving their loved ones some peace of mind.
"I was able to give this family back some of these memories and, you know, closure for them."
When it comes to Samuel Force, Folstad said it's not going to be an easy case to crack.
"This one has been really tough since he has no middle name and he's a junior. I don't know why, but it makes it a lot harder," Folstad said.
She remains hopeful in her search, knowing no effort is too much to honor those who served.