CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — They didn’t know his name, and they didn’t know his story. But Laramie County residents knew he was a veteran, and that was enough to draw them into the cold and wind for his funeral Wednesday morning.
Forrest M. Dickason was the first unaccompanied veteran seen by the Laramie County Coroner’s Office this year, which means his next of kin or family members could not be located following his death in early December. But in the absence of family, Dickason was sent off by well over 100 residents, service members and first responders at the Cheyenne National Cemetery.
Word of the funeral spread like wildfire from Laramie County Coroner Rebecca Reid’s Facebook page, and residents showed up in droves to give Dickason the send-off a veteran deserves.
“He did not journey alone while he walked this Earth, and he did not journey alone when he transitioned from this life to the next,” Cheyenne VA Chaplain Allison Salvino said during the funeral. “We do not know the details of Airman Dickason’s life; we don’t know why his family is not here, or if he has living family who could attend this service today. What we do know is that you are all here today. His community showed up to give him and all unaccompanied veterans the honor that they deserve.”
As the Wyoming wind whipped and the sun peeked through the clouds, Dickason received military funeral honors, including a three-volley salute, the playing of taps, the folding of the flag and a helicopter flyover from F.E. Warren Air Force Base. A variety of local first-responders, military personnel and veterans earnestly paid their respects in the cold, alongside a few families with bundled-up kids.
In closing the brief ceremony, Salvino read a quote given by President Ronald Reagan in a 1983 radio address to the nation.
“Veterans know better than anyone else the price of freedom, for they’ve suffered the scars of war. We can offer them no better tribute than to protect what they have won for us,” Salvino read. Still, not much is known about Dickason’s life, other than that he served as an airman second class and fought in the Korean War. Salvino also noted that Dickason was a man of faith who tried to pray every morning and night.
Any attempts from the Laramie County Coroner’s Office to reach out to family and perhaps learn more about Dickason’s life was unsuccessful. When an unaccompanied veteran is brought to the coroner’s office, they are required to hold the body while they attempt to contact family.
Reid’s office will also hold onto Dickason’s flag and other mementos, and they’ll return those items to the rightful owner if any family members come forward or are identified in the future.
Ultimately, Reid said she couldn’t thank everyone enough for braving the cold and showing their support.
“Just seeing all the citizens out, it just makes me so warm knowing that everybody wants to honor a fallen veteran, even if they have no family here,” Reid said.
And after the crowd dispersed, the scene was quiet and serene as Dickason’s casket was lowered into the ground – in an honorable resting place where he’ll be surrounded by fellow veterans.
“We never let a veteran die alone,” Cheyenne National Cemetery Manager Greg Smith said.