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When 70-year-old Navy veteran without a family died, six Mississippi teenagers took time out of their holiday to serve as pallbearers at his funeral.
Vietnam War veteran Jerry Wayne Pino had made arrangements to be buried at the Biloxi National Cemetery prior to his December death, but he had no surviving family to take part in the burial services.
“He was an unclaimed veteran,” funeral director Cathy Warden told the Biloxi Sun Herald. She said that a co-worker suggested she reach out to her son, Bryce, and his classmates from an area high school serve as pallbearers for the services.
Although Ms Warden’s son was out of town, his friends responded to her call for help at the burial.
“Bryce sent the text and asked them to wear khaki pants, shirts, and ties,” she added. “‘Let’s do this!’ he told his classmates. Almost immediately, they said yes.”
The six boys – JT Tripp, Bailey Griffin, Jake Strong, Kenny McNutt, Joseph Ebberman, and James Kneiss – all played on the Long Beach Bearcats football team, and joined the supplied Navy honour guards in Pino’s burial ceremony.
“This morning, JT and fellow Bearcats will be pallbearers at a veteran’s funeral service,” said Stacie Tripp, the mother of one of the boys, in a Facebook post. “Proud mom when he told me that no one should be buried without people who care present, especially a veteran.
“Exposure to patriotism and respect comes from the home, schools, and community. Proud of all these boys!”
Mr Pino was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He joined the Navy in 1970 before settling on the Mississippi coast after serving in the war.
Because he did not have family in attendance, the honour guards presented the US flag – which was draped over Mr Pino’s casket – to the funeral home director, who passed it along to the teens.
They plan to hang the flag in their football team’s locker, accompanied by a special plaque commemorating Mr Pino’s service.
“It doesn’t cost anything to take some time to do something like this,” Ms Warden said. “If our young people can figure this out, our country is going in the right direction.”