It’s a sad fact of life that some people pass away with no family left to mourn them. But for war veterans, this lonely end is especially tragic.
Which is why it was so endearing to see hundreds of strangers pay their respects to James McCue, 97, at his funeral in Lawrence, Massachusetts on Thursday.
The state’s Secretary of Veterans’ Affairs, retired Marine Corps Staff Sergeant Francisco Urena, shared an open invitation for community members to honor McCue earlier this week, after learning the WWII veteran had no one to mourn him.
Around 500 people, including representatives from several veterans organizations, arrived to pay their respects to McCue despite the chilly weather.
McCue, who grew up in Lawrence, outlived his wife and family before his death earlier this month, according to his obituary.
Urena called him a "highly decorated" veteran, who served in several major battles including in the D-Day Invasion of Normandy, when McCue landed on Utah Beach. McCue had enlisted in the army when he was just 21, following the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.
Attendees brought balloons and flowers Bellevue Cemetery for McCue, and lined up in the cold to sign a tribute wall in his honor.
Veterans from the Second World War and the Vietnam War traveled from near and far to be in attendance. Iraq War veterans were also in the crowd, including Army Sergeant Pete Rooney, who saluted McCue’s casket from his wheelchair.
The Massachusetts State Police Air Wing even arranged for a helicopter fly-over of the ceremony.
One mourner told ABC News that he was a Vietnam veteran, and that his father had been a Second World War veteran. "I would hate to see my dad move on without anybody there," he said.
Hundreds of people turn out to honor a World War II veteran they never even met. 97 year old James McCue had no living family. Laid to rest today in a Lawrence cemetery. #wbz pic.twitter.com/g1IkG7UPqo— Ken Tucci (@KenTucci) February 14, 2019
While he had no family left to remember him, McCue’s friends from the rest home where he spent his final days were on hand to say goodbye during the emotional ceremony.
The National World War II Museum estimates that over 300 veterans from the historic conflict die each day, and less than half a million are left alive today.