WAYLAND, Mich. -- The amount of community support for recently deceased World War II veteran Samuel Schwartz is more than his friend James Linton ever expected when he reached out to FOX 17 to spread the word on Schwartz's funeral.
Schwartz has no family left who can attend his funeral, and Linton was worried no one would attend. When Schwartz passed away last Monday at the age of 94, James was there by his side during his final moments so he didn't die alone and now, also thanks to Linton, he won't go unknown.
After FOX 17 aired his story, Linton says he's been contacted by several local veteran's organizations and even total strangers who want to pay their respects to Schwartz.
“There’s just been an outpouring of response," Linton tells FOX 17. “When I sat at my laptop at night after his death, thinking that if we just get somebody to come, it wouldn’t just be my wife and our pastor and his wife and now it looks like we’re gonna have a really good turnout.”
The funeral will be on Wednesday, April 11 at 1:30 p.m. at Graceland Memorial Park in Grand Rapids.
Linton says Schwartz was like a father to him. They met nine years ago when James' wife was working at the nursing home Schwartz and his wife Elaine were living at.
Schwartz and his wife both served in the Marines throughout World War II. Elaine trained pilots at Parris Island, South Carolina while Schwartz was deployed to the South Pacific. They were married for 60 years before Elaine passed away in 2009.
Members of American Legion Post 179 will be at the funeral to honor Schwartz.
“It’s something we do when the need arises, when a veteran in the community passes away," American Legion Post 179 Commander Scott Mullarkey tells FOX 17. "It’s important for us to come out and pay our respects.”
The amount of support is what surprises Linton, but not the reason why.
“I think a lot of people have a Sam in their life somewhere," Linton says. “We’ve had messages from people we don’t know, people that had a father or grandfather that was in World War II."
Mullarkey says it's important his post honors every veteran, even if they've never met.
“We’re all members of the same sacred brotherhood of having served in the military and we have lots of brothers and sisters in the community who we want to provide support to," Mullarkey says.
Linton says before Schwartz passed away, he told him it was important that the Marines be at his funeral. Above all, though, is the person Linton says Schwartz will be joining: Elaine.
“He had the portrait of his Elaine at the foot of his bed and he would look up and say that was his Lainey and he was ready. He was ready to be with her," Linton says.
When Schwartz is laid to rest, Linton says he'll always have his friend in his heart, with one particular lesson Schwartz taught him.
“I count my blessings, I think because of him," Linton says.
Linton encourages local veterans, or anyone who would like to, to attend Schwartz's service.