MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- When the flags were removed from the caskets and folded with military precision, there were no family members there to receive them.
So, the banners were passed, hand-to-hand, through the crowd.
Army soldiers Arnold M. Klechka, 71, and Wesley Russell, 76, and Marine Charles B. Fox, 60, were laid to rest in a service attended by about 700 people at West Tennessee Veterans Cemetery in Memphis on Thursday. There was a gun salute, and a bagpiper played "Amazing Grace."
But none of them had family members present.
"It touched my heart when no one came to claim these gentlemen, these soldiers, because they fought for our freedom," said Callicott, 69. "Any serviceman, they're just like family to me, and I just can't see laying them to rest without going and seeing their final moments, to say goodbye."
Organizing the funerals, which are fairly commonplace in Tennessee, requires a lot of teamwork.
Berry said the process usually begins with county medical examiners or local coroners, who contact state or national veterans' cemeteries with names of people whose bodies have gone unclaimed. They typically were either homeless or had no surviving relatives to claim them.
And some have had surviving family members who did not want to claim them.
The cemeteries determine whether the service members were honorably discharged. If they were, medical examiners or the cemeteries then contact Dignity, which is owned by Service Corporation International, or one of its partner funeral homes. A funeral director then sets up the memorial service, and the funeral home covers the cost, Berry said.
Cemetery directors can file claims with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for grave markers or placards for columbariums, according to the Tennessee Department of Veterans' Services. The VA also gives money to individuals or entities that provide burials, caskets and transportation to cemeteries for unclaimed deceased vets.
Memorial services are publicized through news outlets, veterans' groups like the American Legion, or social media. Honor Guard and other active military members attend, but it's the strangers who come out of respect for the military and the dead who bring dignity to the occasion.
A service for unclaimed veterans is planned in the coming weeks at East Tennessee State Veterans Cemetery in Knoxville, Berry said.
"Most of the time, it's folks that had no knowledge of the person in life," Berry said. "One thing I've learned in working with the veterans is that they are a tight knit group. They really support each other. It's like a band of brothers or sisters."
During the Memphis ceremony, funeral director Gary Taylor thanked those who showed up.
Then, he spoke directly to the caskets.
"Today, we salute you," Taylor said. "Today we all claim you as our own."