Community rallies around abandoned Vietnam veteran to bury him with honors

A veteran who doesn't have any close family won't be laid to rest alone as the community steps up to help in Phoenix.
Published: Mar. 29, 2022 at 8:58 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -- An abandoned Phoenix war veteran was going to be buried alone with no close family members left until now. Funeral home staff made a call hoping he could be laid to rest with even a few people present, and now, it’s grown to be bigger than they ever imagined.

This Vietnam war veteran was 83 years old when he passed away in September of last year. His military records show a career of service and accomplishment. Now, not only will he be buried surrounded by love, but also be laid to rest with his love.

Inside a small Maryvale funeral home, there’s often more meaning to death for those who work here. “Veterans have a really special place in my heart. My father-in-law was in Vietnam,” said Mickie Chanley, with Advantage Maryvale Funeral Home.

Chanley got a call from hospice that 83-year-old Vietnam veteran Norman Coulter had died. She started looking through his records. “I took the time to actually look at his discharge paperwork — he has so many medals,” Chanley said.

This decorated war hero served for more than 16 years, with a long list of prestigious awards. But he had nobody to lay him to rest, and his only living relative was distant and not involved in his life.

“We felt like we just couldn’t allow that to happen,” said P.J. Dean with United Phoenix Firefighters.

That’s when the United Phoenix Firefighters got involved, unwilling to let Norman’s death and burial be an afterthought. The plan is for firefighters, police officers, the honor guard, and many more to be there for the ceremony.

“Whether it’s protecting your country or your community, the work we do is along the same lines,” said Dean.

And Norman won’t be buried alone. His wife passed away in 2011, and he carried her ashes with him until the very end. “The fact that his wife passed in 2011, and fast forward ten years later he still had her from care facility to care facility to care facility, it was the right thing to do to lay them to rest together,” Chanley said.

What began as heartbreak for a veteran she never knew has become more than she could have imagined. Norman Coulter will be buried surrounded by a family he never even knew he had.

“I would just want him to know that there are people who do care,” Chanley said with tears in her eyes. “I think it’s going to blow me away.”

Norman’s burial will be open to the public for anybody who wants to come to pay their respects, especially other law enforcement and first responders. If you’d like to attend, the ceremony will start at 11 a.m. on Wednesday, March 30, at the National Memorial Cemetery of Arizona.