When Stanley Stoltz passed away at age 73 last month, his local newspaper, the Omaha World-Herald, printed a heartbreaking notice paid for by Stoltz’s funeral home among their obituaries.
"Public invited to cemetery to honor Vietnam veteran with no known family," it read, alongside the date and time for Stoltz’s internment at Omaha’s National Cemetery.
Not much else is known about Stoltz, except that he was born in Iowa, served in Vietnam as a private first class, and struggled with substance abuse after the war, according to his ex-wife.
Friends say that Stoltz’s first wife died of cancer, he had no children, and that his parents passed away before he did.
If no one had answered the notice, he might have been buried alone, with no one to mark his death.
Instead, after it went viral on social media, more than 1,500 strangers arrived to say goodbye to a man they only knew from a newspaper clipping.
Many sported dress uniforms, or wore military jackets and hats in a crowd which one visitor guessed was “three-quarters” veterans.
The one thing they all had in common is that they would not let Stoltz be buried alone.
Chaplain Roy Edwards said it was "the first time we’ve had this kind of crowd" for a service at the cemetery.
"Most get six to eight cars," he told the World-Herald. "Fifteen at most. This is hundreds."
The cemetery’s final estimate for the number of mourners that day was between 1,500 and 2,000.
Mike Nash is a fellow veteran who stood among the crowd and paid tribute to Stoltz, and he spoke about why he made the trip to Omaha with KETV.
"I closed up shop. I said I'm gonna head to Omaha and bury my brother," he said. "I didn't know who this guy was but you know what, he gave up his freedom when he joined the military, for that short time in Vietnam, for our freedom."
And, in a surprising twist, several members of Stoltz’s family, including his brother Keith, arrived for the funeral as well - but declined to speak to the media.
The flag draped over Stoltz's coffin was given to a member of the Final Salute Society, who plans to fly it over the cemetery on Memorial Day unless Stoltz’s family members choose to claim it.
[H/T: Omaha World-Herald]