January 9, 2014

Homeless Wichita vet laid to rest with military honors

There were few tears shed for Joseph Pluimer on Thursday.

There were few tears shed for Joseph Pluimer on Thursday.

The homeless veteran, who died Dec. 26, had a chilly service Thursday morning at Resthaven Cemetery, populated mainly by reporters and people who never knew him.

But as his casket was rolled in, about 20 waving flags held by American Legion motorcycle riders led the way to the cemetery’s Garden of Freedom.

Though he lived his last years homeless in Wichita, Pluimer’s service was complete with all the decorum of a military funeral, including an honor guard from Fort Riley. He received his military honors through the Dignity Memorial Homeless Veterans Burial Program, which provides funeral services for homeless veterans, Resthaven superintendent LeRoy Stine said.

“It’s a solemn occasion where we pay a homeless veteran the honors we feel he has coming to him,” Stine said.

Stine, a veteran himself, said that since the program started in Wichita in 2000, it has helped bury about 18 homeless veterans.

“We’re their family in the end,” said Mark Hansen, general manager at Resthaven.

Pluimer, 71, served as a private in the U.S. Army from June 28, 1962, to June 12, 1965, when he was honorably discharged, Stine said. Pluimer died at 4:45 p.m. Dec. 26 in his Wichita apartment, he said.

Other than that, officials at the Veterans Administration know nothing more about him. Even though he was found dead in an apartment, Pluimer was considered homeless by officials associated with the burial program.

He had no legal next of kin, so at the service, Angela Foster, a Gold Star Mother, received a folded flag in his honor. Foster said the flag will be framed and donated to a local ROTC chapter.

Foster, who lost one son in 2010 and has another serving in the Navy, said she frequently accepts folded flags for veterans who have no family.

“The ones who came back need to be honored, and a lot of them weren’t when they came back,” Foster said. “We try and honor all of them, even though they don’t know we’re here.”

Ron Vangas, director of Mulvane’s American Legion Riders, had about 20 people at the service. Years ago, he said he saw a homeless veteran’s funeral sparsely populated, so he decided to get the riders involved.

“They deserve recognition just like any other veteran,” Vangas said. “They’re brothers in arms.”

Pluimer was buried at the Kansas Veterans’ Cemetery in Winfield on Thursday afternoon. Ron Herndon, chaplain of the American Legion’s Post 136, eulogized Pluimer with a passage from Sgt. Joshua Helterbran’s poem “The Final Inspection.”

“Step forward now, you soldier; you’ve borne your burdens well,” Herndon said. “Walk peacefully on heaven’s streets. You’ve done your time in hell.”

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