Queens Chpater 32 of the Vietnam Veterans of America reached a milestone recently, carrying out the 60th burial of an indigent veteran.
On Monday, February 27, the chapter assisted in the burial of David Lamar Wilson, a Vietnam Veteran who served in the U.S. Army from 1961-1965. He was discharged honorably.
Wilson was born in Madison, Wisconsin, and died at Mt. Sinai Hospital. Up until his death he lived in Long Island City.
According to Paul Narson, president of Chapter 32, the organization began overseeing the burials of indigent veterans in October of 2002, when the group buried its first indigent veteran, a highly decorated war hero who did seven tours of duty in Vietnam.
According to Narsen, when a veteran dies the city contacts the chapter’s partner, Hess-Miller Funeral Home in Middle Village, which makes arrangements to accept and handle the body.
When the funeral home becomes available, a small memorial service is held and the casket is taken to Calverton Cemetery on Long Island, the closest military cemetery to the city.
Until Queens Chapter 32 began making arrangements for a proper burial, indigent veterans were buried in New York City’s potter’s field on Hart Island, the largest public graveyard in the world.
“The city refused to transport the bodies outside of New York, and there is no military cemetery within city limits,” said Narson. “These people served their country, and we felt they should be buried with honor and dignity.”
The city first began using Hart Island as a public graveyard in 1869. Today, there are more than 850,000 people buried there.
Narson said that the records from burials on Hart Island are currently being examined, and in the future, the bodies of known veterans could be moved to a military cemetery for a proper burial.
“Nobody knows how many veterans are buried there,” he said.