When Wayne Wilson’s friends put a call out for community members to attend his funeral, they were expecting an additional 10 to 15 people to show up.
Instead, about 3,000 people turned out on Wednesday afternoon to pay their respects to the Vietnam War veteran, who did not have any surviving family members.
Wilson, who died May 28 at age 67, served in the army from 1971 to 1977, according to his obituary.
“I was just amazed when I pulled up in the hearse,” Drew Mikel, an intern at the Brown Funeral Home & Cremation Services who helped publicize Wilson’s funeral, told CNN.
“I was driving through a sea of people. I couldn’t believe that many people actually turned out.”
Some who showed up were locals; others had driven from Tennessee, Iowa, Florida and Indiana to Niles, Michigan, to pay their respects, Mikel added.
Full military honors and the military salute were performed for Wilson at the ceremony.
Sergeant-at-Arms of American Legion Post 51 Richard Stuart, who is in charge of the color guard that performed at the ceremony, said Wilson’s was the biggest commemoration he has ever done in 10 years.
“None of us figured that it would be as big as it was,” Stuart said. “Every veteran has the right to have a funeral like this. You’re showing honor to a veteran who has passed away.”
Mikel said the funeral home had publicized Wilson’s ceremony in the local paper.
“Mr. Wayne Wilson was a heroic soldier for our country, becoming wounded in the Vietnam War. Wayne was proud of his country and proud of his city. Every year, Wayne was the first person at Silverbrook Cemetery for the annual Memorial Day Parade,” Brown Funeral Home & Cremation Services said.
However, they didn’t expect the notice to reach so many people.
“The community simply embraced it and took it upon themselves, made it their mission (to celebrate Wilson),” Mikel said.