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Community gathers for funeral to make sure veteran wasn't alone

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Posted at 6:55 PM, Nov 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-19 19:11:12-05

HELENA — On Thursday, about 100 people came together at Fort Harrison to make sure a local veteran wasn’t forgotten.

They gathered at the Montana State Veterans Cemetery, attending a funeral service for 52-year-old U.S. Army Spc. Michael J. Gilmer.

After Gilmer passed away at the hospital, the VA tried for several weeks, but couldn’t get in contact with any family members. So, when they organized his service, they asked for anyone else in the community who could come out to pay him their respects.

“The call went out to all American Legions and veteran organizations, and we showed up today,” said Lonnie Cook, commander of VFW Post #12177. “Of course, us being here on Fort Harrison, we felt we had to be here for Michael.”

Gilmer Funeral
About 100 people gathered at Fort Harrison Thursday for the funeral of Army Spc. Michael Gilmer. The Montana VA Health Care System wasn't able to reach Gilmer's family, so they asked other community members to attend.

That call was quickly amplified by social media.

“When the word got out, people were connected,” said VA chaplain Tim Weidlich. “I met people from all around the state.”

Weidlich met Gilmer while he was at the hospital. He led the service and accepted the burial flag on behalf of Gilmer’s family.

Gilmer Funeral
About 100 people gathered at Fort Harrison Thursday for the funeral of Army Spc. Michael Gilmer. The Montana VA Health Care System wasn't able to reach Gilmer's family, so they asked other community members to attend.

Gilmer served during the Iraq War, and he received the Army Commendation Medal for meritorious service in eastern Baghdad.

Those who attended the service said they were gratified by the show of support.

“I was not surprised at the turnout,” Cook said. “Helena has always been a great community, especially supporting veterans.”

“We are made for community, and to see the community – veterans, health care specialists – come around and be part of a ceremony like this reminds me of what freedom’s all about,” said Weidlich.

Gilmer Funeral
About 100 people gathered at Fort Harrison Thursday for the funeral of Army Spc. Michael Gilmer. The Montana VA Health Care System wasn't able to reach Gilmer's family, so they asked other community members to attend.

When Gilmer was laid to rest, several people left flowers in his honor. They said the most important thing was to show he was not alone.

“Even though he was disconnected from his biological family, he was well connected to his country and to the veteran family,” Weidlich said.

“Just letting him know that he did not go out alone, and he went out with some friends today,” said Cook.