Putnam County officials are hoping to give a proper sendoff to a recently deceased local veteran with no friends or family before his body is sent to a national cemetery this week.
Donald Norton died last month apparently all alone with no family or friends coming forward to claim his body. Norton was a veteran of the Korean War era and living in the county for about a year before his death.
The county’s veterans service agency has worked with Veterans Affairs and Cargain Funeral Home in Carmel (10 Fowler Road) to host a brief sendoff for Norton this Wednesday. While there won’t be visitation hours or a service, county officials are hoping people from the public will come out at 9:15 a.m. in order to acknowledge Norton in the parking lot before he is driven up to Gerald B.H. Solomon Saratoga National Ceremony to his final resting place.
About two weeks ago, County Executive MaryEllen Odell received a call about a veteran who had died without any next of kin to notify as his remains lay at Putnam Hospital Center. Odell then contacted the county’s veterans service agency where director Karl Rohde and deputy director Art Hanley started coming up with a plan for Norton.
The veterans service agency has funds to pay for indigent veteran burials in its budget, Rohde noted, but to ensure the funds could be expended, Rohde had to contact several people and collect documentation to prove Norton was actually an Army veteran. Once that was confirmed, Rohde contacted Gerald B.H. Solomon Saratoga National Ceremony to see if he could be buried there.
Sadly, Norton lived many of his remaining years alone. Rohde said he found one family friend, but it appeared that person was closer to Norton’s father than Norton. He has only
lived in Mahopac for about a year or so, Rohde said. Before landing in Mahopac, he was homeless and staying at the Montrose VA for awhile (which likely meant he had other problems, Rohde said) before an apartment was found for him in Putnam.
“It doesn’t matter, he’s an indigent veteran and we want to see that he has a proper burial,” Rohde, who never personally interacted with him, said.
On his official documents from the VA, Norton, who was born in 1933, even listed himself as his next of kin.
“There was nobody to claim his remains,” Rohde said. “I don’t know what would have happen if we didn’t come through, but we were able to get it done.”
Unfortunately, this is not the first time Rohde has assisted in indigent veteran funerals and burials. There was one deceased veteran from the veterans’ residence in Patterson that was assisted, Rohde said, and another more recently that was helped by the community.
Even though he was unknown in the county, Rohde hopes people in Putnam and the surrounding region are able to give him worthy farewell. As a Korean War era veteran, Norton is owed a debt of gratitude.
“The worse thing for a veteran is to be forgotten, Rohde said. “This guy was completely forgotten.”