HANOVER TWP. -- Patriotic residents of Northeast Pennsylvania answered the call Saturday by showing up en masse to pay final respects to a World War II veteran since the military can't give traditional honors during the coronavirus shutdown.
Hundreds of people waving flags lined roadways from a Back Mountain funeral home to a Hanover Twp. cemetery to see that Navy veteran Dalton Drake, 98, got the send off he deserved.
Following the fitting tribute, Drake was laid to rest in Oak Lawn Cemetery.
"On behalf of the Drake family, they are so unbelievably overwhelmed by the outpouring of support shown by so many today. They extend their sincere thanks and respect to you all. Thank you," Brent Snowdon, whose family owns the Snowdon Funeral Home that handled Drake's services, said in a Facebook post. "A personal thank you to all that took an idea and made it happen."
As it turned out, Drake wasn't the only veteran honored by the outpouring of support on Saturday.
Minutes before Drake's funeral procession arrived at Oak Lawn Cemetery, another procession approached and the hundreds of people assembled assumed it was the one they were there for. An organizer gave the orders to salute and the crowd obliged.
Family members of that man, Ronald E. Smith, 85, of Wilkes-Barre, a Navy veteran of the Korean War, could be seen crying from the unexpected tribute as his procession passed by en route to St. Mary's Cemetery down the road.
"They were happy. They couldn't have an Honor Guard either," said funeral director Joseph M. Jendrzejewski, who handled Smith's arrangements. "I didn't expect that many people. It was touching."
Those gathered for Drake's procession quickly realized they gave an expected tribute to another veteran -- and say they were happy to do so. Some joked it was a "trial run" for Drake's procession. When Drake's procession arrived, they saluted again.
The procession's entry into Oak Lawn Cemetery was met by a fly over by two airplanes -- a tribute Snowdon said he didn't anticipate. He said he wasn't sure who organized the flyover.
Days before Drake's funeral, Snowdon made a plea on Facebook for the community to line the funeral procession route since the military couldn't give Drake the customary honors. Veterans organizations and motorcycle groups took the message to heart.
"America showed up today," said Sheila Brandon, 51, of Dallas, representing the American Legion Riders. "It was very patriotic. No veteran should be buried without military rites."
Drake, who died in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, is survived by his widow, the former Priscilla Swartwood, a Wilkes-Barre native whom he married in 1957. A native of Columbus, Ohio, Drake earned a chemical engineering degree from Ohio State University in 1943 before entering World War II. He served as a lieutenant junior grade aboard the U.S.S Cacapon.
Navy veteran Dave Jacobs, 64, of Nanticoke, attended Saturday's gathering wearing his old military uniform.
I squeezed into this outfit after 18 years. I figured I'd come out for this guy," Jacobs said.
Gary Lewis, 44, of Dallas, and other members of the BlackTop Warriors Jeep Club, were among those in attendance.
"This is pretty amazing under the circumstances," Lewis said. "We wanted to give this veteran the proper respects. This is about the veteran. That's why we are here. We love our country."
This article is written by Bob Kalinowski from The Citizens' Voice, Wilkes-Barre, Pa. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to email@example.com.