AUGUSTA, Maine (NEWSnet/AP) Former U.S. Marine Gerry Brooks died alone at a nursing home in Maine, abandoned and seemingly forgotten.

Then the funeral home posted a notice asking if anyone would serve as a pallbearer or simply attend his burial.

Within minutes, the staff was turning away volunteers to carry his casket.

A bagpiper came forward to play at the service. A pilot offered to perform a flyover. Military groups across the state pledged a proper sendoff.

Hundreds of people who knew nothing about the 86-year-old beyond his name showed up on a sweltering afternoon and gave Brooks a final salute with full military honors Thursday at the Maine Veterans’ Memorial Cemetery in Augusta.

Patriot Guard Riders on motorcycles escorted his hearse on the 40-mile route from the funeral home in Belfast, Maine, to the cemetery. Members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars paid tribute with a 21-gun salute. Volunteers held American flags alongside the casket while a crane hoisted a huge flag above the cemetery entrance.

“It’s an honor for us to be able to do this,” said Jim Roberts, commander of the VFW post in Belfast. “There’s so much negativity in the world. This is something people can feel good about and rally around. It’s just absolutely wonderful.”

He said the VFW is called a couple times a year about a deceased veteran with no family or with one that isn’t willing to handle the funeral arrangements. But “we will always be there.”

More than 8 million of the U.S. veterans living are 65 or older, almost half the veteran population. They are overwhelmingly men. That’s according to a U.S. Census Bureau report last year. As this generation dies, it said, their collective memory of wartime experiences “will pass into history.”

Much about Brooks’ life is unknown.

He was widowed and had lived in Augusta before he died on May 18, less than a week after entering a nursing home, Riposta said. A cause of death was not released.

The funeral home and authorities were able to reach a next of kin, but no one was willing to come forward or take responsibility for his body, she said.

“It sounds like he was a good person, but I know nothing about his life,” Riposta said, noting that after Brooks’ death, a woman contacted the funeral home to say he had once taken her in when she had no other place to go, with no details.

“It doesn’t matter if he served one day or made the military his career,” she said. “He still deserves to be respected and not alone.”

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