An unclaimed Veteran died in December in Kalamazoo, Michigan. There were no family members present to hold his hand or to advocate for him. But when this Vietnam War-era Veteran’s funeral was held at the Fort Custer National Cemetery Jan. 20, he was not alone.

Former Marine Corps Corporal Michael Neff was interred with full military honors. He was surrounded by his brothers and sisters-in-arms, as well as several staff members from the Battle Creek VA Medical Center. Those attending ensured the event was a fitting send-off for one of their own.

Honor guard folds funeral flag

“I felt honored to be there for my fellow Marine.”

Coston Smauley is an emergency manager with Battle Creek VA. He volunteers with the USMC Reserve Funeral Honors Team in Battle Creek.  “When I was asked to assist with Mr. Neff’s funeral honors, I felt honored to be there for my fellow Marine,” he said.

Members of the Battle Creek VA Public Safety Service were present and members of the Fire Department escorted Neff to the committal shelter. They stood as pall bearers on that crisp, winter day.

Ensured Corporal Neff was not forgotten

The local Marine Corps Reserve Funeral Honors team presented the flag to members of the local Marine Corps League. Several active duty service members were present to pay their respects and to ensure Corporal Neff was not forgotten.

Taps and the three-rifle volley was provided by the cemetery’s all-volunteer funeral team.

Larry Sweerin, commandant of the Marine Corps League, Kalamazoo Detachment, stood in to receive Mr. Neff’s military burial flag.

“The funeral director contacted me because Neff was ‘Unclaimed’, meaning he did not have a designated next of kin,” Sweerin said. “We wanted to make sure we were there so Marines like Neff aren’t left alone.”

By Adam V. Swager is a public affairs specialist with Battle Creek VA

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Published on Mar. 6, 2022

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